When in 1917 Albert Einstein came up with the theory for laser light, he is reported to have said, “A new light has dawned upon me.” However, it was not until 1954 that Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow first applied his theory in making the maser, the forerunner to the laser. Today it is difficult to think of an area of life where laser light is not used to benefit us (CD and DVD players and burners, photocopiers, survey work, house construction to name just a few). One area where the laser has been particularly beneficial is in laser eye surgery.
Three laser eye surgery techniques use the laser to correct for refractory problems – nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia. In each case laser eye surgery is used to improve or fully correct focal problems.
The best known technique for laser eye surgery is called LASIK. This is an acronym for Laser-Assisted in SItu Keratomileusis. The 15 minute procedure involves cutting a flap in the cornea about .001 mm deep. This is pealed back and then an excimer laser is used to reshape the cornea to correct the blurry vision. The actual reshaping only takes one minute! Healing is well under way in one to three days and a person can drive within a week.
Another example of laser eye surgery is a variation of this technique called LASEK. This stands for Laser Assisted Sub-Epithelial Keratomileusis. As in LASIK, a flap is cut into the cornea and the corneal tissue is reshaped with an excimer laser. However, the LASEK flap is only half as deep and does not go past the epithelial (outermost) layer. This is advantageous to people with a thin cornea. However, the procedure is more painful and takes more time for full healing.
A third technique in laser eye surgery is called PRK, standing for PhotoRefractive Keratectomy. This involves actually removing the epithelial layer of the cornea and then sculpting the shape of the cornea below it to correct the focus. Since the outer layer is actually removed, a contact lens is worn for one to three days after surgery while healing begins. This technique eliminates the complications caused by the flap getting out of place or causing hazy vision. However, since the pain nerves of the cornea are in the epithelial layer, it is much more painful to have this entirely removed. PRK also takes longer than either of the other two techniques to heal.
LASIK is by far the most popular of the laser eye surgeries, seven times more popular than LASEK. However, since some people do not qualify for LASIK surgery, one of the other techniques may still be possible and yet accomplish the same goal.
To know which laser eye surgery is right for you, you will need to contact a reputable eye specialist or ophthalmologist. That person will give you a thorough eye exam to determine if you qualify for any of these procedures and will share with you the pros and cons of each one for you personally.