History of Laser Eye Surgery

LASEK and LASIK laser eye surgery are two of the most recent advances in laser eye treatment. It is estimated that since 1987, over two million LASIK laser eye surgery procedures have been undertaken, worldwide. Laser eye surgery has earned itself an international reputation for safety and effectiveness, successfully correcting cases of near and far-sightedness on a daily basis. While there has been an interest in refractive eye surgery since the 1930s, modern laser eye treatment was developed in the 1970s.

The First Discoveries

A Russian, Dr Svyatoslav Fyodorov, was the first recognised pioneer in the field of laser eye treatment. The story behind his discoveries is now the stuff of ophthalmic legend. As a doctor, Fyodorov was asked to treat a little boy. The boy had been in a fight and his glasses had broken into his eye, cutting the cornea. His symptoms included poor vision. Over a period of time, Dr Fyodorov observed that the boy’s eye self-healed and his vision was restored, but to a level that was better than before the fight took place. This left him with the question – if accidental cuts can heal, what can precise cuts do?

Dr Fyodorov’s research lead to one of the fundamentals of LASIK laser eye surgery. During laser eye treatment of this sort, an incision is made into the cornea, to create a flap of corneal tissue that is hinged at one end. This allows the laser to be directed directly at the underlying cornea and tissue can then be removed, allowing the focussing properties of the eye to be improved. The flap of corneal tissue is then replaced and self-heals, without the need for stitches.

Laser Technology

Dr Fyodorov’s findings gained interest, particularly in the United States, in the late ‘70s. An IBM researcher, Dr Srinivasin, was the one who made the connection between Dr Fyodorov’s experiments on the cornea and the use of laser technology. Using the Excimer laser, he discovered that radial keratotomy broke the carbon bonds between the molecules of the corneal tissue, essentially vaporising it as part of a painless procedure. The treatment was perfected over a number of years, and then in 1988 the first official laser eye surgery treatment was carried out on a patient in Germany.

Today, laser eye treatment is carried out on a daily basis, correcting a range of poor vision conditions such as near and far-sightedness. As technology has advanced, different procedures have been developed for different complaints, giving patients clear vision and freedom from having to wear glasses or contact lenses. However, not everyone is eligible for corrective laser eye surgery. Conditions such as Glaucoma, in which the optic nerves are damaged, are not treatable through this process. In addition, those with certain underlying health problems may not benefit from it.

If you are considering laser eye surgery, the first step should be to contact your doctor or GP, who will be able to offer an initial assessment of your vision and discuss the various options with you.