Sharp looks

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
Spectacles for close work existed in the 13th century. But spectacles with concave lenses for short sight didn't appear until the 16th century. Astonishingly, it wasn't until 1730 that London optician Edward Scarlett solved the vexed question of how to keep glasses on, by inventing the familiar rigid sidearms resting on the ear.

Spectacles have remained more or less the same since, apart from changes in fashion and technology - plastic lenses replaced glass long ago, and if you pay a bit more you can have them in a highly refractive material that keeps them a little thinner.

Until relatively recently, contact lenses were the only solution for those who yearn for the spectacle-free look. These were experimentally made in the 19th century, but it was the Forties before they became commercially available. Early ones were large, covering the whole front of the eyeball, and wearable only for a short time. but small lenses soon came, and developments from the Sixties onwards have given us a range of contact lenses, including "disposable" ones, to suit a variety of needs.

Cutting into the cornea (the front layer of the ye) to change its shape so that it bends light has long been seen as a possible way to improve vision. Originally it was done with a scalpel, but real progress came only in the Eighties with the development of suitable lasers. Now there's huge experience of laser correction - techniques are being honed and developed all the time. The latest method is "Lasik" (laser in situ keratomileusis) which involves lifting a thin flap from the cornea, working with the laser on the underlying layer, then refixing the flap.

Gemma Warren had Lasik at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, although there are many other centres. it cost pound;1,800. But if you want to go ahead with the procedure, make sure your centre is using the latest techniques and, importantly, that you will be operated on by an experienced consultant ophthalmologist - ask about this. It's more important than cost.

A good American site, with diagrams and explanations of Lasik, is www.lasikinstitute. org. For the UK, entering Lasik UK into a search engine such as Lycos brings up the major UK providers such as Laser Eye Surgery UK on

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