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Ophthalmol Eye Dis. 2017 Jul 26;9:1179172117721902. doi: 10.1177/1179172117721902. eCollection 2017.

Ophthalmology in North America: Early Stories (1491-1801).

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Department of Ophthalmology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA.
Department of Ophthalmology, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Naples, FL, USA.
Instituto de la Visión, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


New World plants, such as tobacco, tomato, and chili, were held to have beneficial effects on the eyes. Indigenous healers rubbed or scraped the eyes or eyelids to treat inflammation, corneal opacities, and even eye irritation from smoke. European settlers used harsh treatments, such as bleeding and blistering, when the eyes were inflamed or had loss of vision with a normal appearance (gutta serena). In New Spain, surgery for corneal opacity was performed in 1601 and cataract couching in 1611. North American physicians knew of contralateral loss of vision after trauma or surgery (sympathetic ophthalmia), which they called "sympathy." To date, the earliest identified cataract couching by a surgeon trained in the New World was performed in 1769 by John Bartlett of Rhode Island. The American Revolution negatively affected ophthalmology, as loyalist surgeons were expelled and others were consumed with wartime activities. After the war, cataract extraction was imported to America in earnest and academic development resumed. Charles F Bartlett, the son of John, performed cataract extraction but was also a "rapacious privateer." In 1801, a doctor in the frontier territory of Kentucky observed anticholinergic poisoning by Datura stramonium (Jimsonweed) and suggested that this agent be applied topically to dilate the pupil before cataract extraction. John Warren at Harvard preferred couching in the 1790s, but, after his son returned from European training, recommended treating angle closure glaucoma by lens extraction. Other eye procedures described or advertised in America before the 19th century included enucleation, resection of conjunctival lesions or periocular tumors, treatment of lacrimal fistula, and fitting of prosthetic eyes.


Ophthalmology history; cataract surgery

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of conflicting interests:The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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