Revisited Myth #51: Wearing tinted eyeglasses meant the wearer had syphilis.

gentleman w_glasses retouched

Come on, do you really think that if that nice young man in the portrait had syphilis, he would advertise the fact with tinted eyeglasses? 

Tinted eyeglasses are not new. In the eighteenth century, some people wore blue, green, amber, and amethyst lenses to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare. They did not indicate a medical problem.

Medical books of the time make no mention of colored lenses in treating syphilis. In Treatise of the Venereal Disease (1789), the author notes correctly that syphilis could cause eye inflammation but offers no specific treatment. In his Observations Concerning the Prevention and Cure of the Venereal Disease (1796), William Buchan recommends blistering plasters applied to the temples or behind the ears to reduce some of the symptoms. No primary reference to the connection between colored lenses and syphilis has been found.



10 Responses to Revisited Myth #51: Wearing tinted eyeglasses meant the wearer had syphilis.

  1. Joseph Dorsey says:

    Another Fear Monger rumor started by the GOP

  2. thank you, and as a former Galt Apothecary interpreter, I cannot believe that the myth still flies around, but there it is…thank you for publicizing this, I hope it helps…

    Kris Fox (Dippre) Brown
    CW building coordinator

    • Mary Miley says:

      Hello Kris! I remember you very well. How nice to hear from you! Yes, the myth wasn’t exclusive to the Galt Apothecary; it exists in other places as well.

  3. Maybe the possibility that one could hide the eye inflammation led to the myth? Just conjecture.

  4. Dori says:

    O yes, it’s made its way out to the West Coast, because I have to plead guilty to spreading it. Mea maxima culpa…..

    So, my follow up question we know the ACTUAL purpose of tinted eyeglasses? Same as today? Same as today+something else? And how widely were they used?

    • Mary Miley says:

      The actual use is to shield the eyes from bright sunshine. When I was visiting Alaska last month, I heard from an Inuit native that they “invented” sunglasses to shield their eyes from the blinding glare of the snow, and, while that sounded suspicious, I did see several antique examples in the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska native Heritage Center, so I believe it. Their invention, however, didn’t use colored lenses–it didn’t use lenses at all–it was more like eyeglasses with visors over the eyes.

      • Curtis Cook says:

        Yes, this is the non-technological method of polarizing light. The narrower the slits, the more effective the polarization. It’s hard to say where it originated, since Eskimos, Aleuts, Lapps and whatever the equivalent in northern Siberia have all used them since before members of ‘western civilization’ first encountered them.

        It’s interesting to me that Bedouins/Berbers and people living in the Himalayas apparently had not made the same discovery, as they could have benefited from it as well. I had read some decades ago that the iceman found in the Alps had a pair in his kit, but more recent reports don’t mention this.

  5. I think I had a pair that were somewhat similar circa late 1980s.

  6. […] Source: Revisited Myth #51: Wearing tinted eyeglasses meant the wearer had syphilis. | History Myths Debunke…. […]

  7. Dustin C Albin says:

    Hmmm, I have my great grandfathers four lens glasses with blue tinted lenses. In a note left by my great grandmother with the glasses she states he purchased them in the 1877 due to severe sensitivity to light from having contracted syphilis.
    So nothing here has been de-bunked!

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