While LASIK is now a household term and common form of surgery, just a couple of decades ago it was a brand new procedure that intrigued masses of people inconvenienced daily by their contacts and eyeglasses. Further back, researchers experimented with rudimentary techniques of surgical vision correction that involved freezing the cornea before removing connective tissue – a far cry from today’s advanced and precise methods.
So how did LASIK Surgery go from the experimental stages to the well-refined procedure we know and trust today? As with all revolutionary forms of medical treatment, it was a long road that involved a number of iterations of the procedure as well as studies and inventions to further hone its safety and efficacy.
The early years of LASIK
In 1978, doctors began performing a procedure called Radial Keratotomy, or RK, in the U.S. This technique entailed several corneal incisions to shape and correct refractive errors. It helped individuals with conditions like nearsightedness and astigmatism to become less dependent on their glasses.
As time went on, surgeons eventually stopped using sutures to re-attach the cornea, and in the late 1980s began using the hinged technique that’s still practiced today. With this method, the cornea isn’t completely detached from the eye but left on as a flap, which carries a lower risk of complications and less healing time. The development of an automated microkeratome was instrumental in furthering the procedure, as it allowed for even more precise incisions.
Additionally, the 1980s saw the development of the excimer laser, which was originally intended for use in making computer chips but was found to be especially helpful in precisely removing tissue during refractive surgery techniques. This method was found to be considerably safer and more effective than RK.
In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration approved a procedure called photorefractive keratectomy, known commonly as PRK, after a successful three-year trial on 1,600 eyes. This flattened the cornea with a laser to treat nearsightedness, and has been used in the U.S. and Canada since 1987.
The LASIK we know and love today consists of a combination of excimer laser technology and surgical incisions using a microkeratome. During this process, a surgeon uses the microkeratome to cut a corneal flap, and then corrects the shape of the tissue underneath with the laser. The flap is then put back in place and acts as a natural bandage while the eye heals. This method has become the most popular method of refractive surgery, as it provides effective results and a short healing time.
Technology brings LASIK to the masses
Since Gholam Peyman, M.D., received the patent for his laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis procedure – which introduced the flap technique – in 1989, the medical community has come a long way in making LASIK Surgery a viable option to treat a number of different vision problems, according to a report by the American Academy of Ophthalmology titled “A Look at LASIK – Past, Present and Future.” In the early 2000s, shortly after the FDA’s approval of the procedure in 1999, improvements in LASIK tools and techniques allowed for predictable outcomes and a new form of treatment for people with large pupils or severe myopia, which posed problems with earlier versions of the surgery, the report stated.
Now, healthcare providers are able to customize treatment for each patient, taking into account his or her degree and type of vision impairment as well as the topography of his or her eyes. Custom wavefront LASIK technology is especially helpful in treating individuals who have aspheric or asymmetrical eye surfaces, as it lets LASIK surgeons ablate aberrations that were previously difficult to treat, according to the AAO.
Modern-day LASIK a popular option for vision correction
Now that some of the skepticism of the laser-assisted procedure has waned, LASIK surgery has become relatively common. In fact, the AAO stated that 28 million LASIK procedures have been completed worldwide. Additionally, an analysis of 3,000 peer-reviewed papers by the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery revealed that the patient satisfaction rate for LASIK lies at more than 95 percent.
Of course, the success of this form of vision correction lies heavily on whether a patient is a good candidate, and continued education on the doctor’s part is key to determining patient readiness, among other factors. Individuals considering the procedure should be sure to consult with their healthcare provider and inquire about his or her credentials. As LASIK technologies develop further, it’s important for both healthcare providers and prospective patients to stay informed on the benefits and caveats of laser-assisted vision correction.