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Is Laser Eye Surgery OK for Children?

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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.

Special equipment needs to be developed to aid with LASIK in youngsters, who because of their age would not be able to stay awake and hold still long enough for the surgery, Cavanagh explains. In addition, the laser equipment currently used is not configured for people completely lying down and unconscious. "It's really an engineering problem rather than a medical one," he says of using the technique for children.

Simon agrees there is a problem with the technology. Namely, that LASIK is still a relatively new procedure. "The technology itself is a problem in children when we don't know the long-term effects. Children have a longer life expectancy than most adults who have LASIK done. We need to perfect it in adults before we use it on children," he tells WebMD.

What's needed to allow the use of LASIK on children, Cavanagh says, is a national study. Davidorf agrees and says that he is talking with the Institutional Review Board at his medical facility, West Hills Hospital in California's San Fernando Valley, about beginning an in-house clinical investigation of LASIK on children that he hopes will commence in January.

He has high hopes that though he can't guarantee LASIK will result in normal vision, he knows that it will improve vision dramatically, as it did for Sferra. "If my kid had this exact same problem, I would be signing them up," he says, adding that eventually it might be offered to youngsters just so they can feel more socially self-assured and to enable them to participate in things such as volleyball and tennis.

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