History of Ophthalmology
An Egyptian papyrus (circa 1600 B.C.) discloses that ophthalmology, in comparison with other medical specialties of the time, was relatively advanced. Many ocular conditions--blepharitis, chalazion, iritis, cataract, trachoma, ophthalmoplegia--were already recognized entities. On the other hand, available treatments were far less sophisticated, and included the use of crocodile dung and lizard blood.
In the second century A.D., Galen wrote several ophthalmic texts that described the eye as the most divine organ. He theorized that rays proceed from the brain through the optic nerve, retina, lens, and cornea, continuing in straight lines toward the object of regard. These rays would then return in exactly the same path to the lens, where vision was mysteriously manufactured and retransmitted to the brain.
Although the surgeon Susruta performed cataract surgery in India over 2,000 years ago, it was not until the mid-19th century in western Europe that a solid scientific base for the specialty was first established. Significant scientific and medical advances of the period included the development of the ophthalmoscope, an increased understanding of refractive errors and their correction, and a more sophisticated knowledge of visual physiology. The current practice of ophthalmology remains based on a firm foundation of scientific research.
As a consequence of its long history, ophthalmology has witnessed many firsts. In 1864, the American Ophthalmological Society was established as the first medical specialty organization in the United States, and in 1917 ophthalmology became the first branch of medicine to develop specialty board examinations.
A number of medical breakthroughs have been made as a result of research in ophthalmology. For example, the first successful use of antiviral agents was for the treatment of eye disease. In the area of surgery, corneal transplants were the first successful homotransplants.
Other surgical innovations include the development of laser photocoagulation, microsurgery, and the development of techniques for micromanipulation and laser photocoagulation from within the vitreous cavity itself. Modern diagnostic advances range from the use of ultrasound and flourescein angiography to sophisticated electrophysiology and visual function studies.
These new advances continue to add challenge and excitement to the field, giving every indication that the future of ophthalmology will be as dynamic as its history.