In the field of ophthalmology, we use lasers for many types of eye surgery. You may have heard of laser vision correction surgery to improve a person’s vision to reduce the need for glasses or contact lenses. There are other types of laser eye surgery including laser cataract surgery, glaucoma procedures, retinal treatments and other laser procedures.
More lasers are used in ophthalmology than in any other medical specialty. This is a result of the fact that the eye is uniquely suited for treatment with a laser because we can deliver the laser light into the eye through the clear cornea and lens to treat the inside of the eye. By focusing the laser on the surface or inside the eye, various conditions can be treated.
As an ophthalmologist, I often get asked by patients, “Will my surgery be done with a laser or with conventional surgery?” Not all types of surgery can be done with a laser. In fact, some surgeries are best performed with conventional surgery and others are well-suited for laser surgery.
Lasers are used to deliver light energy in a very precise way. Lasers produce light of only one wavelength rather than light that includes all the colors of the spectrum, such as sunlight. Lasers can emit visible light (for example, green or red) or invisible light (infrared or ultraviolet light).
There are two main ways that lasers are used: 1) to cut or vaporize tissue and 2) to heat tissue. Numerous eye conditions can be treated with laser surgery.
Vision correction eye surgery
Lasers that cut or vaporize tissue can be used to reshape the cornea, the clear outer layer of the eye, in surgeries such as LASIK and other forms of laser vision correction. By reshaping the cornea, light rays are focused on the retina to achieve better vision without glasses or contact lenses.
Laser-assisted cataract surgery
Cataract surgery involves removing a cloudy natural lens and implanting an artificial lens. In cataract surgery, the ophthalmologist can perform some of the steps with a laser and some of the steps manually. Lasers can be used for several of the important steps in cataract surgery — creating the incisions, adjusting astigmatism, opening the membrane that surrounds the cataract lens, and breaking up the cataract into softer, smaller pieces. Manual surgery is then used to remove the lens pieces and implant the artificial lens.
Correction of blurred vision after cataract surgery
Months or years after cataract surgery, a cloudy membrane can develop behind the implant lens, making vision blurry. A laser can be used to create a clear opening in this membrane to improve vision.
Glaucoma is a condition that can lead to vision loss from pressure in the eye, causing damage to the optic nerve. Several laser procedures can be performed for glaucoma. Some decrease pressure in the eye by opening the outflow channels in the eye. Other lasers are used to create a microscopic hole in the iris to allow fluid in the eye to flow from the back to the front of the eye.
Retinal laser procedures
The retina is a thin layer of nerves that line the back of the eye and send visual images to the brain. Some retinal lasers can be used to seal a retinal break or small retinal detachment in a technique that works like spot-welding. Lasers can also be used to close leaking retinal blood vessels in conditions such as diabetes and macular degeneration.
If you have a condition that might be treated with a laser, your ophthalmologist can discuss the risks and benefits of the procedure with you. Even with the use of these high-tech tools, the skill of your ophthalmologist is what matters most.
Dr. Allan Rutzen is an ophthalmologist who specializes in medical and surgical conditions that are in the front of the eye. He has particular expertise in laser-assisted cataract surgery. If you have any questions or if you would like an eye examination, call Rutzen Eye Specialists & Laser Center at 410-975-0090 for an appointment. His office is located in Severna Park at 489 Ritchie Highway, Suite 200. Visit online at www.rutzeneye.com for more information.
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