Laser Not the Only Option for Nearsightedness

From the WebMD Archives

March 30, 2000 (New York) -- Everyone's doing it. Getting laser eye surgery, that is.

Laser eye surgery is all the rage today, and as many as 800,000 Americans will throw away their eyeglasses and contacts lenses after they undergo laser eye surgery this year.

But at least one leading eye surgeon says that for certain people with low levels of nearsightedness, or myopia, a newer procedure involving Intacs may be the way to go.

The first FDA-approved option for correcting mild nearsightedness without a laser, Intacs are two tiny half rings that are placed within each eye to gently reshape the cornea, which is the transparent tissue covering the front of the eye. In the nearsighted eye, the cornea is too steep, but the Intacs remedy this problem.

"[Putting in] Intacs is almost a cosmetic procedure for people who can see OK without glasses, but want extra crispness to their vision," says Brian S. Boxer Wachler, MD, director of the UCLA Refractive Center at the Jules Stein Eye Institute in Los Angeles.

While LASIK eye surgery (laser in situ keratomileusis) also corrects mild nearsightedness, "the big difference between Intacs and LASIK is that Intacs are removable and easily adjustable in the future," he tells WebMD.

Because it is a newer procedure, Intacs are not as widely available as the laser surgery and may be more expensive, he adds.

During LASIK surgery, the cornea is cut with a blade in a circular pattern so it can be lifted and held back to show the tissue underneath. Then some corneal tissue is removed using a laser.

LASIK surgery, however, is not without its risks -- namely decreased night vision and dry eyes. "People with low degrees of nearsightedness are often afraid of having a risky, drastic procedure like LASIK on their eyes," Boxer Wachler tells WebMD.

But some people, including Jessica Mulrain, 30, still opt for LASIK surgery. "I had LASIK in August 1999 to correct mild nearsightedness," she tells WebMD. "The results were immediate and fantastic. My friends don't even recognize me without my glasses."

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While Intacs were not offered to Mulrain, she says she would still undergo LASIK because she is so happy with the results. "I didn't have any of the side effects that I was warned about either," she says.

"It's really a decision based on whether people want to stay with LASIK, a procedure that has been around longer and that they know people who have undergone, or try a newer technology that has the potential for removability or adjustability down the road," says Daniel Durrie, MD, director of refractory surgery for the Hunckler Eye Center in Kansas City, Mo. "Some people may choose Intacs because it provides them with the ability to change for a better technology if one is developed in 10 years or so," he tells WebMD.

If you choose LASIK, Boxer Wachler suggests asking the surgeon if the procedure is safe with your pupil size, because people with large pupils are at greater risk for decreased night vision and halos (the glare that appears over certain objects).

Also, he adds, make sure the surgeon you choose performs other types of eye surgery so he or she is equipped to choose the procedure that is best for you. "The surgeon needs to be well-versed in all the procedures, so he or she can find the best treatment for you," Boxer Wachler tells WebMD.

Other questions that can help you pick a surgeon include inquiring how many times the surgeon has performed LASIK and asking about his or her results, Durrie adds. Also, "don't be afraid to ask to check some references, " Durrie says.

Vital Information:

  • Patients with mild nearsightedness may have an alternative to LASIK surgery, known as Intacs.
  • The procedure involves placing two tiny half rings within each eye to reshape the cornea, and they are removable and easily adjustable in the future.
  • One expert advises patients to find a surgeon who performs many types of eye surgeries, so that he or she can help choose the best procedure for each individual.
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