What Could the Future Hold?
Let’s face it: refractive surgery already sounds like science fiction. Reshaping your eyes with lasers, so you can see better? What a futuristic idea!
But as advanced as the technology currently is, refractive surgery is poised to get even better in the coming years. Scientists and doctors are working to improve refractive surgery, developing new techniques and materials that could be safer and have better results. What could the future hold? Here are a few of the innovations now coming down the pipeline.
LASIK For Aging Eyes
While LASIK surgery can be performed on someone of any age, as long as they’re healthy and have the ability to heal well from the procedure, so far it’s been limited to correcting myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness). However, people in their 40s and 50s start to show signs of presbyopia, which is a stiffening of the lens of the eye that causes it to be unable to change shape as much. The result is that people need reading glasses (if they had normal vision before) or bifocals (if they already needed corrective lenses before becoming presbyopic). Until now, LASIK and other laser eye surgeries could correct the main vision problem, but reading glasses would still be necessary if the patient had presbyopia.
Enter presbyLASIK. As surgeons develop the ability to control the laser ablation of the cornea more and more precisely, this technology has tantalizingly held out the promise of laser correction of presbyopia. In essence, presbyLASIK turns the whole cornea into a bifocal, with both distance and near vision corrected in the same eye. The technique isn’t quite ready for prime time, but it’s coming soon.
A major limitation of refractive surgery is that it can weaken the structure of the cornea. Some patients experience keratectasia (a weak and bulging cornea) after having LASIK or another laser procedure. There are some who avoid having these procedures because they fear this complication.
However, this corneal weakening may not be inevitable. Biochemists studying the proteins that make up the cornea are developing medications that can strengthen the cornea, shoring up its structure so that it doesn’t get weakened after surgery. This is called corneal collagen cross-linking. As this technology advances, the treatment might help not only those who undergo refractive surgery, but those who develop keratoconus for other reasons.
The newest LASIK technology uses wavefront sensing, computer modeling and guiding, and femtosecond lasers to perform a completely personalized surgery. As these components become more and more accurate, many patients are able to achieve 20/20 vision after LASIK.
But why stop there? Visual acuity could theoretically be increased to 20/15 or even 20/10 in many patients. (Because of the spacing of retinal cells that detect light, visual acuity is not unlimited; 20/10 is likely to be the upper limit.) Vision better than 20/20 is sometimes called “super vision,” and some studies of new LASIK techniques have produced it in a surprising number of participants. Don’t get overly excited yet; most of these studies enrolled only young healthy adults with relatively mild refractive errors. Many of these subjects already had super vision when wearing their glasses or contacts (their “best-corrected visual acuity” was better than 20/20). It’s unlikely that refractive surgery will create super vision in everybody, even assuming that the technology can be perfected.
The Future is Bright!
The innovations coming down the pipeline in the field of vision correction are exciting. And the present is exciting too. If you wear glasses or contacts and would like to be rid of them, you have many options for working with a refractive surgeon to enhance your vision. So there’s no need to wait — go ahead and explore your options!