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LASIK

LASIK is the acronym for Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis, a type of refractive laser eye surgery performed by ophthalmologists for correcting myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism.[1] The procedure is generally preferred to photorefractive keratectomy, PRK, (also called ASA, Advanced Surface Ablation) because it requires less time for the patient's recovery, and the patient feels less pain, overall; however, there are instances where PRK/ASA is medically indicated as a better alternative to LASIK. Many patients choose LASIK as an alternative to wearing corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Procedure

There are several necessary preparations in the preoperative period. The operation itself is made by creating a thin flap on the eye, folding it to enable remodeling of the tissue underneath with laser. The flap is repositioned and the eye is left to heal in the postoperative period.

Preoperative

Patients wearing soft contact lenses typically are instructed to stop wearing them approximately 10 to 15 days before surgery. One industry body recommends that patients wearing hard contact lenses should stop wearing them for a minimum of six weeks plus another six weeks for every three years the hard contacts had been worn. [3] Before the surgery, the patient's corneas are examined with a pachymeter to determine their thickness, and with a topographer to measure their surface contour. Using low-power lasers, a topographer creates a topographic map of the cornea. This process also detects astigmatism and other irregularities in the shape of the cornea. Using this information, the surgeon calculates the amount and locations of corneal tissue to be removed during the operation. The patient typically is prescribed an antibiotic to start taking beforehand, to minimize the risk of infection after the procedure.

Operation

The operation is performed with the patient awake and mobile; however, the patient typically is given a mild sedative (such as Valium) and anesthetic eye drops.

LASIK is performed in two steps. The first step is to create a flap of corneal tissue. The second step is remodeling of the cornea underneath the flap with laser. Finally, the flap is repositioned.

  • Flap creation

A corneal suction ring is applied to the eye, holding the eye in place. This step in the procedure can sometimes cause small blood vessels to burst, resulting in bleeding or subconjunctival hemorrhage into the white (sclera) of the eye, a harmless side effect that resolves within several weeks. Increased suction typically causes a transient dimming of vision in the treated eye. Once the eye is immobilized, the flap is created. This process is achieved with a mechanical microkeratome using a metal blade, or a femtosecond laser microkeratome (procedure known as IntraLASIK) that creates a series of tiny closely arranged bubbles within the cornea.[4] A hinge is left at one end of this flap. The flap is folded back, revealing the stroma, the middle section of the cornea. The process of lifting and folding back the flap can be uncomfortable.

  • Laser remodeling

The second step of the procedure is to use an excimer laser (193 nm) to remodel the corneal stroma. The laser vaporizes tissue in a finely controlled manner without damaging adjacent stroma. No burning with heat or actual cutting is required to ablate the tissue. The layers of tissue removed are tens of micrometers thick. Performing the laser ablation in the deeper corneal stroma typically provides for more rapid visual recovery and less pain, than the earlier technique photorefractive keratectomy (PRK).

During the second step, the patient's vision will become very blurry once the flap is lifted. He/she will be able to see only white light surrounding the orange light of the laser. This can be disorienting.

Currently manufactured excimer lasers use an eye tracking system that follows the patient's eye position up to 4,000 times per second, redirecting laser pulses for precise placement within the treatment zone. The average power for each pulse is usually in the milliwatt range [5] Typically, each pulse is on the order of 10–20 nanoseconds.

  • Reposition of flap

After the laser has reshaped the stromal layer, the LASIK flap is carefully repositioned over the treatment area by the surgeon, and checked for the presence of air bubbles, debris, and proper fit on the eye. The flap remains in position by natural adhesion until healing is completed.

Postoperative

Patients are usually given a course of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops. These are discontinued in the weeks following surgery. Patients are also given a darkened pair of goggles to protect their eyes from bright lights and protective shields to prevent rubbing of the eyes when asleep.

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