What is an Ophthalmoscope? Who invented it?

The Ophthalmoscope, also known as Funduscope, is a device that brought an explosive change in the treatment of eye diseases. It is used to find various eye diseases such as Glaucoma. Before the device, the physicians had been relying on primarily magnifying glasses to study the eyes. It was more or less unreliable, as the doctors could only see the outer side of the eye and it was difficult to do the diagnosis. Eye is a very complex organ containing many microscopic blood vessels, lens and retina. And, unlike many of the other organs, eye couldn’t be cut open to examine either. The invention of Ophthalmoscope was therefore a major turning point in the field.
An Ophthalmoscope helps a physician to take a detailed observation of the interior parts of the eye and find any ailments and signs of diseases. The basic structure of Ophthalmoscope is almost common in all versions. There will be a small lamp that directs a beam of light with the help of a mirrored prism. The observer need to look through a tiny hole in the prism and a magnified image of the eye could be seen. A series of revolving lenses help to focus on the image.
The idea behind Ophthalmoscope was first suggested by English physician Dr. William Cumming in 1846 in an essay. According to some historians, the first Ophthalmoscope was the contribution of English mathematician Charles Babbage in 1847. It is claimed that Babbage, also known as the father of computer, gave his device to a doctor to check but it didn’t see the light ever since. But the invention of a practical Ophthalmoscope is widely attributed to a German physician named Hermann von Helmholtz. He developed his own version of the Ophthalmoscope in 1851, without any knowledge of Babbage’s achievement.
Helmholtz reached his invention after many experiments on magnifying glasses. His device used a mirror to direct a light beam to eye and using lenses, a much larger image of the eye could be obtained. The apparatus helped one to see the small veins and other minute parts of the eye.
Later, Swedish ophthalmologist Allvar Gull-strand developed an improved version of the device. In 1915, Francis A. Welch and William Noah Allyn invented the world’s first hand-held direct illuminating ophthalmoscope which is often regarded as the model for the current Ophthalmoscopes. They established a company, Welch Allyn, which is one of the largest manufacturers of the device now.
At present, Ophthalmoscope is used to determine even high Blood pressure and Diabetes. The practice of using the device to determine the eye diseases is called Ophthalmoscopy or Funduscopy.

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