One major disadvantage of PMMA lenses is that they allow no oxygen to get through to the conjunctiva and cornea, causing a number of adverse and potentially serious clinical effects. By the end of the 1970s and through the 80s and 90s, a range of oxygen-permeable but rigid materials were developed to overcome this problem. Chemist Norman Gaylord played a prominent role in the development of these new oxygen-permeable contact lenses. Collectively, these polymers are referred to as rigid gas permeable or RGP materials or lenses. Though all the above contact lens types—sclerals, PMMAs and RGPs—could be correctly referred to as "rigid" or "hard", the latter term is now used to the original PMMAs, which are still occasionally fitted and worn, whereas "rigid" is a generic term for all these lens types; thus hard lenses (PMMAs) are a subset of rigid contact lenses. Occasionally, the term "gas permeable" is used to describe RGPs, which is somewhat misleading as soft contact lenses are also gas permeable in that they allow oxygen to get through to the ocular surface.

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