Laser eye surgery is a procedure for correcting common visual impairments, over a wide range of prescriptions, caused by hyperopia (long-sightedness), myopia (short-sightedness) or astigmatism (an irregular conically-shaped cornea). It provides a long-term alternative to wearing prescription spectacles or contact lenses for patients who are assessed as suitable for treatment.
Beginning with the introduction of photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) in the 1980s, laser eye surgery has become the safest and most popular branch of elective surgery with more than thirty million procedures already performed worldwide and up to 150,000 UK patients undergoing treatment every year.
Laser eye surgery involves the reshaping of a patient’s cornea using a precision laser known as an Excimer laser. PRK has been superceded by two general procedures known as LASEK and LASIK. In LASEK eye surgery the outermost layer of the cornea is chemically loosened and moved to one side to allow the laser access to the corneal tissue beneath. When the operation is complete the outer layer of the cornea is replaced and a protective contact lens is worn whilst the eye heals.
LASIK laser eye surgery differs from LASEK in that an incision is made in the cornea either with a precision blade called a Microkeratome or, in more recently developed procedures a Femtosecond laser, to produce a flap which the surgeon then folds back to reveal the corneal tissue beneath. This corneal tissue is then reshaped by the Excimer laser to correct visual impairment.
Advancements in laser eye surgery techniques and technology such as WaveFront and Intralase have significantly reduced the risks of complications arising from laser eye surgery and have made the benefits available to patients with a wider and more complex range of visual impairments. Modern laser eye surgery is quick, painless and effective, resulting in 99% of suitable patients achieving 20/20 vision or better, and is widely available via a number of dedicated ‘high street’ providers and independent specialist surgeries.