After a decade of extensive clinical trials, LASIK was formally granted final FDA approval in 1999 although some surgeons had been performing it right after PRK approval in 1995. This marked a new era in surgical vision correction: LASIK had proven far more predictable, safe, effective, and permanent than earlier refractive procedures such as radial keratotomy (RK) and automated lamellar keratoplasty (ALK). Compared to photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), the laser procedure that had been approved by the FDA a few years before (and is still in use today), LASIK had a far faster and more comfortable recovery time, with most patients able to return to normal activities as soon as the next day. (However, both LASIK and PRK produce the same long-term visual results.) It revolutionized vision correction, and since then nearly 15 million LASIK procedures have been performed in the United States alone.
In the simplest terms, LASIK consists of two steps: flap creation, where a device called a microkeratome makes a thin flap of tissue on the cornea; and ablation, where a laser, known as an excimer laser, removes a precise amount of tissue from the cornea in order to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. All the millions of LASIK procedures that have been performed in this country have involved these two basic steps.
However, LASIK technology did not stop advancing in 1999. Innovative laser developers, working hand in hand with forward-thinking surgeons, have been continually introducing new devices and techniques to the field of laser vision correction. Each new generation of lasers represents a significant step forward from the last, and with it comes improved safety and results for patients. Because laser vision correction is such a dynamic field of medicine, it is vitally important for patients considering LASIK to seek out a surgical provider who employs the newest technology and is experienced in its use.
The first major advance in technology after FDA approval was the introduction of blade-free LASIK, also known as “all-laser LASIK.” Blade-free LASIK uses a computer-guided laser, called a femtosecond laser, to create the flap that was formerly made with an oscillating steel microkeratome blade. This made an enormous difference in the procedure. An already safe surgery became even safer, as many of the most common flap-related complications all but disappeared. Since the laser-created flap was thinner and more uniform than the old microkeratome flap, LASIK also became accessible to patients who were previously not candidates for the procedure due to thinner corneas. The thinner, more precise flap also improved results and eyes were less dry afterwards.
Hoopes Vision was the first Salt Lake City practice to offer this revolutionary technology, starting in December of 2003 with our acquisition of the IntraLase™ femtosecond laser. Our surgeons have performed far more blade-free LASIK procedures than any other practice in Utah. We have continued to upgrade our laser keratomes; the two currently in use at Hoopes Vision, the iFS IntraLase (5th generation) and the Wavelight FS200, are nearly ten times as fast, and far more precise, than the original IntraLase.
The next important advance in LASIK technology was the introduction of wavefront-guided and wavefront-optimized procedures. Where the original LASIK treatments performed a spherical ablation based on the patient’s prescription, wavefront-guided treatments performed a custom ablation based on detailed maps (known as wavefront maps) of the patient’s corneas. Wavefront-optimized treatments took this principle even a step further: wavefront-optimized treatments helped preserve the natural prolate (round) shape of the patient’s cornea after treatment. This reduced an increase in higher-order aberrations that most all other lasers created. There was another significant improvement; wavefront-optimized lasers such as the Allegretto Wave Eye-Q and Zeiss MEL-80 were the first lasers certified by the FDA to reduce nighttime halo and glare, which were among the most common reported side effects of the traditional LASIK procedure.
Hoopes Vision was the first practice in the state (by 4 to 5 years) to offer wavefront-optimized LASIK, starting with our August 2004 introduction of Utah’s first Allegretto Wave laser. Hoopes Vision’s surgeons have performed significantly more wavefront-optimized treatments than any other LASIK center in Utah. Our current excimer laser, the Wavelight EX500, is the fastest and most precise vision correction laser available in the United States.
Laser vision correction is a field where great strides are constantly being made. Hoopes Vision has been a pioneer and early adopter of nearly every major advance in LASIK technology since its inception, so that patients who are considering these life-changing procedures can rest assured that they are receiving the safest, most effective procedures available, from the surgeons who are most experienced in their use. If you are interested in laser vision correction and would like to explore your options, please contact us. It would be our pleasure to offer you a complimentary examination and consultation, as well as a tour of our laser surgery center.