Refractive Eye Surgery

What is refractive eye surgery?

Most people are aware that there are new developments in eye surgery intended to reduce the dependence on glasses and contact lenses. Refractive surgery includes several surgical techniques designed to improve problems in focusing the eyes, also known as refractive problems. Until recently only glasses or contact lenses could correct refractive problems.

What are refractive problems?

Light is focused, or refracted, by the cornea, the clear front "window" of the eye. Your vision is clear if the cornea and lens combine to focus an image precisely on the retina. The retina is the inner layer of the eye that senses light and helps you to see.

Your vision is blurred if the cornea, lens and eye length place the image in front of the retina. This is known as myopia, or nearsightedness. If the cornea is not round (like a basketball), but instead has unequal curves (like a football), the image is distorted. This is called astigmatism. An eye with astigmatism may have myopia as well.

Refractive solutions:

Refractive problems such as myopia and astigmatism are solved by helping the eye to focus light using glasses, contacts or refractive surgery. Refractive surgery techniques aim to change the eye's focus by changing the shape of the cornea in various ways:

  • The surgeon makes an exact pattern of incisions in the cornea
  • The surgeon sculpts the cornea into a new shape by removing tissue with an automated blade (keratome) or laser
  • The surgeon inserts natural or man-made materials on or within the cornea to change its shape

Should you consider refractive surgery?

You might consider refractive surgery if you:

  • Wish to decrease your dependence upon glasses or contact lenses
  • Are free from eye disease
  • Can accept the inherent risks and side effects of the procedure
  • Have the appropriate refractive error
  • Refractive surgery offers an alternative to dependence upon glasses or contact lenses. But you may not be a good candidate for refractive surgery if you cannot accept the somewhat variable outcome of currently available procedures, and you are generally happy and comfortable with your glasses or contacts. After refractive surgery, some people still use glasses or contact lenses for some situations.

Surgery, contacts and glasses for the correction of refractive problems each have their benefits and drawbacks. The best method for correcting your vision should be decided after a thorough examination and discussion with your ophthalmologist.