Since LASIK was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1998, it’s come a long way, ushering in one of the most popular elective laser procedures ever developed.

For millions of patients with nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, LASIK provided 20/20 vision without the need for glasses or contact lenses. During the outpatient procedure, the physician uses a laser to reshape the cornea, at the front of the eye, improving the eye’s ability to focus light on the retina. Specifically, the surgeon creates a hinged flap of very thin corneal tissue that is folded back while an excimer laser reshapes the exposed corneal tissue. The flap is then replaced, and vision stabilizes as the eye heals.

“It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s just hard to imagine all the beautiful technology that’s come to fruition,” says Dr. Harry Eggleston, an ophthalmologist with Eagle Eye Care and an early pioneer in the field of laser vision correction. “I was the first to make a flap in the St. Louis area with the old ALK technique before we had the laser to help us make the flap. We were pretty accurate with that, but it was a really hard, gut-wrenching procedure.”

Eggleston notes that LASIK cases have decreased slightly due to the slow economy. “Now we have all these sophisticated lasers but the market’s down; and because of the economy, very few people can afford to have it done compared to what it was in the boom times,” he says.

That hasn’t deterred Dr. Sean Mulqueeny of Mulqueeny Eye Centers from offering a state-of-the-art laser system, the WaveLight Allegretto Wave Eye-Q, that takes LASIK to a new level. “This laser maintains the cornea’s natural shape, which truly maximizes our custom laser treatments,” Mulqueeny enthuses. “To accomplish this, our WaveLight laser is noted to be the fastest laser in the industry, treating one unit of nearsightedness in only two seconds. The faster speed is absolutely critical because the longer the laser takes to treat the eye, the drier the eye becomes during surgery and the more likely the treatment is to be off-target.”

The technology now features a spot beam measuring less than 1 millimeter in size, which allows a refined sculpting of the corneal surface, Mulqueeny says. It also uses an optimized laser shot distribution. “What this means is the laser spots are scattered in a way so as to not duplicate a laser spot too often. Lasers that duplicate these spots too often build up heat, which compromises the quality of vision.”

Even with the most advanced technology available, not everyone is a good candidate for LASIK and other options give patients choices for surgical vision correction. “The best procedure for a patient hinges on several factors, including age, cataract development, corneal thickness and dry eye,” Mulqueeny says. “For instance, if a young, highly nearsighted patient is interested in LASIK, I may recommend an implantable contact lens in lieu of LASIK. This will many times afford this type of patient a much higher level of visual acuity and overall higher patient satisfaction.”

LASIK continues to evolve. “The next exciting development will be what’s called topographically-driven laser treatment,” Mulqueeny says. “This technology will allow us to further refine our treatments to address patients with corneal disease as well as treating normal corneas in a more refined fashion.”