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Is Laser Eye Surgery OK for Children?

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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."

A number of roadblocks lie in the way of performing the laser procedure on those under 10. Davidorf says one of these is a technical problem in accurately evaluating children's vision. Another is that LASIK currently is FDA approved only for those over the age of 18. The surgeries done thus far on those younger have been under what is called Institutional Review Board approval, a committee at each institution that investigates the feasibility and safety of clinically testing a procedure on patients.

H. Dwight Cavanagh, MD, PhD, the vice chairman of ophthalmology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says LASIK could be successfully performed on children and would provide long-term benefits. In addition, he tells WebMD, these benefits would most likely outweigh any risks to the patients. One positive would be eliminating wearing a patch or contacts.

"It's difficult trying to keep contact lenses on a 3-year-old," Cavanagh says. However he cautions that technical difficulties would have to be overcome. One is that because children must be asleep for the procedure, it increases the surgery's difficulty. Adults who undergo LASIK are awake, enabling the surgeon an optimal view while he or she is performing the procedure.

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