What is Laser Eye Surgery?

The eye is a complex organ and vision is a complex process. We know that while the human body is an amazing creation, not all body parts work as we like them to.

Millions of people experience a refractive error and have a dependency on glasses. Others find that contact lenses for vision correction is part of life.

If you’re a spectacle or contact lens-wearer, you’ll know that neither of them is the most convenient. Particularly for a busy, active lifestyle.

This then leads to the question – what is laser eye surgery and what can it do for you?

Refractive errors

Before detailing exactly what laser eye surgery is, we must first understand the underlying problem. Refractive error refers to an optical state. It is when the bending of light entering the front of the eye doesn’t focus onto the retina at the back of the eye. This may involve short- or long-farsightedness, and astigmatism.

Blurry vision is the result of a refractive error at certain distances.

The vision correction offered by glasses and contacts works by bending light through the spectacle or contact lens. Doing this in such a way that light ends up focusing onto your retina, results in sharp vision.

In the 1980s the first laser eye surgery was introduced in the form of photorefractive keratectomy.

What is Laser Eye Surgery?

Laser eye surgery is a form of vision correction utilizing laser technology.

Externally worn optical aids redirect the path of light through the eye to provide vision correction. Laser surgery adjusts the shape of the anatomical components of the eye itself to change the way light enters the eye.

The main benefit of laser eye surgery is that it can reduce a patient’s dependence on glasses or contacts. For some fortunate people, laser eye surgery may eliminate their need for glasses or contacts.

This depends on factors such as, your initial refractive error, your age, the laser surgery technique used, and your lifestyle.

How does laser eye surgery work?

There are two main refractive components of the human eye. The cornea, which is the clear dome of tissue at the very front of the eye, and the crystalline lens, which sits hidden behind the coloured iris. Refractive laser surgery treatments centre around reshaping the cornea, redirecting the light passing through it to focus onto the retina, providing clear vision.

Two types of medical-grade laser technologies are used for refractive laser eye surgery:

  • A femtosecond laser 
  • An excimer laser

Though not all laser surgery procedures need both.

There are several types of laser eye surgery in addition to these techniques. Further methods of refractive surgery aim to achieve surgical vision correction but don’t involve lasers.

Most well-known procedures:

PRK: short for photorefractive keratectomy. PRK treatment involves mechanical or chemical removal of the superficial layers of the cornea known as the epithelium. Beneath the epithelium and its underlying membrane is the corneal stroma. The excimer laser is used to reshape the stromal tissue in a process called photoablation. This is entirely controlled by a computer algorithm.

LASIK: potentially one of the most popular laser eye surgery techniques. Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis also applies an excimer laser to the corneal stroma in photoablation. The difference from PRK lies in the removal of the epithelial layers. Instead of total removal, a flap of superficial corneal tissue is created. This comprises of the epithelial layers plus a small degree of the stroma. This flap remains attached to the main cornea and is repositioned after the photoablation step. The formation of the flap may be via a manual bladed instrument. Or, more recently, more precisely through the use of the femtosecond laser.

SMILE®: small incision lenticule extraction is one of the most modern methods of laser eye surgery. With significant benefits from its minimally invasive nature. By using a femtosecond laser. A pre-calculated disc-shaped sliver of tissue known as a lenticule, is created within the corneal stroma. Without needing to disrupt the epithelium. The extraction of this lenticule via a keyhole incision reshapes the cornea from within. Thereby correcting for refractive error. Though the treatable prescription ranges vary between procedures, many of these are suitable for farsightedness, nearsightedness, and even astigmatism.

Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from a qualified health practitioner.

If you’d like to know if you’re a good candidate for any of the treatments mentioned above,  I would encourage you to take our suitability quiz. It takes a few minutes of your time and gives you a good idea if you can take the next step to gain better vision without glasses and contact lenses.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to one of our friendly experts, you can book an appointment online, or give us a call on 03 8372 0187  and we’ll assist you. 

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About the expert

Dr Anton van Heerden, MBCHB; FRANZCO
Ophthalmologist & Laser Eye Surgeon

Based in Melbourne, but with a reputation that transcends borders, Dr Van Heerden sets the highest bar for laser vision correction surgery in Australia. While his skills and experience are second to none, it is his fun, caring and down to earth nature that truly set’s him apart from the rest. You can sit back and enjoy the journey knowing every detail has been carefully considered.

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