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Is Laser Eye Surgery OK for Children?

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"Fundamentally I have a problem [with the fact that] some of the aggressive LASIK surgeons will give false assumptions to parents that 'Johnny won't have crossed eyes any more.' That's just not true. I'm afraid that people will just say 'let's laser the child,'" he says.

As for Sferra, she fell into the category of having difficulty functioning because of her poor vision, making her the type of youngster Davidorf believes LASIK can most help.

"I had worn glasses since I was 3, and I had two eye muscle surgeries," Sferra explains. "When I was younger, glasses were no problem, but as I got older, I really hated them so much. Then I had hard contacts for two years but I broke one and couldn't replace it."

In addition, she wore a patch three times in an attempt to strengthen her weak eye when she was very young. "It was very embarrassing; kids were always asking what it was," Sferra tells WebMD.

Davidorf says her reactions are typical. "She had really heavy thick glasses. There is a stigma if a child is walking around with 'Coke bottles' on."

He says he knew they could use LASIK to correct her farsightedness by about 75% and because this type of vision problem often improves with age, this would be enough to give Sferra good functional vision that could get better. Currently, she doesn't wear glasses.

So far, Sferra is the only juvenile on whom Davidorf has performed the surgery but a group at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Eye and Ear Institute has used LASIK for children aged 5 to 8. Those youngsters also had anisometropic amblyopia but they were myopic, or nearsighted, rather than farsighted.

In a previous WebMD article on the University of Pittsburgh research, Simon claimed to be "uncomfortable" about using LASIK surgery on children under these circumstances, saying "it sends chills down my spine."

But Davidorf feels there is a place for LASIK surgery for children." We're studying the cases most in need of treatment," he says. "Once we find the protocol that is safe and effective, we can use LASIK on younger children."

Davidorf says he wants to try LASIK on youngsters under 10 years because it's "best to intervene early, the earlier the better." However, he cautions that it's important to first try other therapies for those with amblyopia, including patching the good eye to make the lazy eye work and wearing special contacts to correct the vision imbalance.

"As we age, the eye needs to be stimulated in order for it to develop properly," he says in explaining the therapies. But for those who don't respond to such treatment, LASIK may be an option. He cautions though that "it's not a surgery for kids who [just] want to throw away their glasses."

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