Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis—better known as LASIK—uses lasers to subtly reshape the cornea. This changes the way the eye refracts light, and can help a person see better.
More than 10 million people have had LASIK since its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1999. So how did this relatively new procedure begin shaping not just eyes, but lives and appearances?
The history of LASIK dates all the way back to 1948.
In 1948, a Spanish ophthalmologist named Jose Barraquer Moner began shaving tiny sections off of his patients' corneas to improve their vision. He originally used a scalpel to reshape the eye, but eventually began using a device called a microkeratome. The microkeratome can shave off tiny segments of tissue. Doctors still use a contemporary form of this device in some LASIK surgeries.
Later, the Russian ophthalmologist Svyatoslov Fyodorov invented a technique called radial keratotomy. This early precursor to LASIK used tiny cuts to reshape the cornea and correct nearsightedness. Doctors began using the procedure in the early 1980s. Nearly half of people who underwent radial keratotomy had changes in their vision between 6 months and 10 years following the procedure. LASIK offers longer lasting results, and quickly rendered radial keratotomy obsolete.
In the late 1980s, several scientists sought and received patents for surgical lasers. Gholam Peyman patented a laser specifically for reshaping the cornea in 1989. This sparked a number of trials of various lasers including excimer and femtosecond lasers to reshape the eye.
In 1998, the FDA approved the first laser for LASIK surgery. Lasersight Technologies, Inc. was the first manufacturer to receive FDA approval, with Summit Technology, Inc. gaining approval about a year later.
At that time, the LASIK procedure used a microkeratome to create the corneal flap in the first step of the procedure. The use of lasers in so-called bladeless LASIK is more advanced. Bladeless, laser-based LASIK may offer faster recovery.
A 2015 study found that results were similar between people who underwent bladed and bladeless LASIK. However, laser-based LASIK offered greater control over the corneal flap. This may decrease the risk of complications and the need for follow-up procedures.