LASIK or Lasik is a type of refractive laser eye surgery performed by ophthalmologists for correcting myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism. The procedure is generally preferred to photorefractive keratectomy, PRK, (also called ASA, Advanced Surface Ablation) because it requires less time for the patient's recovery, and the patient feels less pain overall. However, there are instances where a PRK/ASA procedure is medically justified as being a better alternative to LASIK.
Many patients choose LASIK as an alternative to wearing corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses.
The LASIK technique was made possible by the Colombia-based Spanish ophthalmologist Jose Barraquer, who, around 1950 in his clinic in Bogotá, Colombia, developed the first microkeratome, used to cut thin flaps in the cornea and alter its shape, in a procedure called keratomileusis. Stephan Schaller assisted in this landmark procedure. Barraquer also researched the question of how much of the cornea had to be left unaltered to provide stable long-term results.
Later technical and procedural developments included RK (radial keratotomy), developed in Russia in the 1970s by Svyatoslav Fyodorov, and PRK (photorefractive keratectomy), developed in 1983 at Columbia University by Dr. Steven Trokel, "the father of laser vision correction," who published the first article on laser correction and was granted U.S. patents on laser surgery. (RK is a procedure in which radial corneal cuts are made, typically using a micrometer diamond knife, and is completely different from LASIK).
In 1968 at the Northrup Corporation Research and Technology Center of the University of California, Mani Lal Bhaumik and a group of scientists were working on the development of a carbon-dioxide laser. Their work evolved into what would become the Excimer laser. This type of laser would become the cornerstone for refractive eye surgery. Dr. Bhaumik announced his team's breakthrough in May 1973 at a meeting of the Denver Optical Society of America in Denver, Colorado. He would later patent his discovery.
The general term for changing a patient's optical measurements by means of an operation is Refractive Surgery. The introduction of lasers in refractive surgeries stemmed from Rangaswamy Srinivasan's work. In 1980, Srinivasan, working at IBM Research Lab, discovered that an ultraviolet Excimer laser could etch living tissue in a precise manner with no thermal damage to the surrounding area. He named the phenomenon Ablative Photodecomposition (APD). Stephen Trokel published a paper in the American Journal of Ophthalmology in 1983 outlining the potential benefits of using the Excimer laser in refractive surgeries. The first patent for laser correction of the cornea using an Excimer laser was granted to Dr. Steven Trokel.
The first patent for LASIK was granted by the U.S. Patent Office to Dr. Gholam A. Peyman on June 20, 1989, U.S. Patent #4,840,175, "Method for modifying corneal curvature," encompassing the surgical procedure in which a flap is cut in the cornea and pulled back to expose the corneal bed. The exposed surface is then ablated to the desired shape with an Excimer laser, after which the flap is replaced.
The first FDA trial of the Excimer laser was started in 1989. The first use of the laser was to change the surface shape of the cornea, known as PRK. Dr. Joseph Dello Russo was one of the ten original FDA researchers who tested and got approval for the Visx laser. The LASIK concept was first introduced by Dr. Palliakaris in 1992 to the group of ten surgeons who were selected by the FDA to test the Visx laser at 10 centers in the U.S.
Dr. Palliakaris theorized the benefits of performing PRK after the surface was raised in a layer to be known as a flap performed by the Mikrokeratome developed by Barraquer in 1950. The blending of a flap and PRK became known as LASIK, which is an acronym. It quickly became very popular, since it provided immediate improvements in vision and involved much less pain and discomfort than PRK.
Today, faster lasers, larger spot areas, bladeless flap incisions, intraoperative pachymetry, and wavefront-optimized and -guided techniques have significantly improved the reliability of the procedure compared to that of 1991. Nonetheless, the fundamental limitations of Excimer lasers and undesirable destruction of the eye's nerves have spawned research into many alternatives to "plain" LASIK, including LASEK, Epi-LASIK, sub-Bowman’s Keratomileusis aka thin-flap LASIK, wavefront-guided PRK and modern intraocular lenses.
LASIK may one day be replaced by intrastromal ablation via all-femtosecond correction (like Femtosecond Lenticule Extraction, FLIVC, or IntraCOR), or other techniques that avoid weakening the cornea with large incisions and deliver less energy to surrounding tissues. The 20/10 (now Technolas) FEMTEC laser has recently been used for incision-less ablation on several hundred human eyes and achieved very successful results for presbyopia, with trials ongoing for myopia and other disorders.
Safety and efficacy
The reported figures for safety and efficacy are open to interpretation. In 2003, the Medical Defence Union (MDU), the largest insurer for doctors in the United Kingdom, reported a 166 percent increase in claims involving laser eye surgery; however, the MDU averred that these claims resulted primarily from patients' unrealistic expectations of LASIK rather than faulty surgery. A 2003 study, reported in the medical journal Ophthalmology, found that nearly 18 percent of treated patients and 12 percent of treated eyes needed retreatment. The authors concluded that higher initial corrections, astigmatism, and older age are risk factors for LASIK retreatment.
In 2004, the British National Health Service's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) considered a systematic review of four randomized controlled trials issuing guidance for the use of LASIK within the NHS. Regarding the procedure's efficacy, NICE reported, "Current evidence on LASIK for the treatment of refractive errors suggests that it is effective in selected patients with mild or moderate short-sightedness," but that "evidence is weaker for its effectiveness in severe short-sightedness and long-sightedness." Regarding the procedure's safety, NICE reported that "there are concerns about the procedure's safety in the long term and current evidence does not appear adequate to support its use within the NHS without special arrangements for consent and for audit or research."
Leading refractive surgeons in the United Kingdom and United States, including at least one author of a study cited in the report, believe NICE relied on information that is severely dated and weakly researched.
On October 10, 2006, WebMD reported that statistical analysis revealed that contact lens wear infection risk is greater than the infection risk from LASIK. Daily contact lens wearers have a 1-in-100 chance of developing a serious, contact lens-related eye infection in 30 years of use, and a 1-in-2,000 chance of suffering significant vision loss as a result of infection. The researchers calculated the risk of significant vision loss consequence of LASIK surgery to be closer to 1-in-10,000 cases.