Be careful in using contact lenses correctly. These are the essential rules to follow so to avoid contracting ocular infections.
A 12 STEP GUIDE FOR THE CORRECT USE OF CONTACT LENSES
1. Wash hands thoroughly and dry them well before applying or removing contact lenses.
2. Store lenses in an appropriate liquid (non-saline) if daily lenses are not used.
3. Never use tap water to rinse or store lenses and never apply saliva.
4. Don’t sleep with contact lenses in.
5. Remove the lenses at the first sign of discomfort (a sensation of a foreign body and/or redness), remembering to bring along a pair of spare glasses, especially if you drive. In the case of a dry-eye sensation, artificial tears can be used. The ocular dryness could be a contraindication that warns against the use of contact lenses.
6. Change the lens container every 3-6 months.
7. Never exchange the cosmetic lenses with other people, especially not the graduated ones, in order to avoid a possible contagion of infections.
8. Smoking, alcohol and drug use alter the perception of discomfort arising from the use of contact lenses: Avoid these substances, a healthy lifestyle is essential.
9. Do not bathe (even in the sea or a swimming pool) or have a shower while wearing contact lenses. If, however, this occurs (even when using goggles or a mask), they must be immediately removed after bathing and thrown away.
10. Use plenty of artificial tears without preservatives, especially when under the sun, avoid the eye becoming dry, as the cornea could be damaged.
11. Never ignore the possibility that ocular irritations or infections may be associated with an incorrect use of contact lenses. Before choosing to use them it is recommended that an eye examination is performed. A specialist should also be consulted periodically during their use.
12. Don’t use contact lenses for too long a time, generally for no more than 6-8 hours.
ITALY’S REGULATION ON DISPLAY SCREENS AND OTHER USEFUL TIPS
Legislative Decree 626/94, which was later integrated to the Consolidated Law on Health and Safety in the Workplace – D.Lgs. 81/2008, subsequently integrated and amended –, indicates all mandatory characteristics of a workplace that an employer must enforce to ensure maximum comfort. This legislation requires compliance with some important rules regarding eye health [[The Article no. 174 of the aforementioned Legislative Decree no. 81/2008 (“Obligations of the employer”) reads: 1. The employer, when assessing the risk, […] analyzes the jobs with particular regard to : a) the risks to sight and eyes; b) problems related to posture and physical or mental fatigue; c) under ergonomic conditions and environmental hygiene. 2. The employer shall take appropriate measures to remedy the risks encountered […], taking into account the sum or combination of the impact of the risks found.
As a scientific study, read also the following: Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 2013 February, Vol-7 (2), pp. 331-335
]], which can also be applied when using a computer at home. They concern, in particular:
● The recommended visual distance when working with standard screens (15-17 inches) should vary from 50 cm to 70-80 cm. The greater the size of the screen, the greater the distance should be.
● Place the keyboard on a workstation in such a position that there is adequate space to rest your forearms.
● The height of the screen should be in a position that is lower than the user’s eye-level (by 15-20 degrees) and, if possible, at a distance of at least 1.5 metres from any window.
● Location of light sources: no light source should be positioned within a 30 degree range of your gaze, so to avoid being dazzled or disturbed.
● The quality of vision. It’s important to wear any glasses prescribed by an ophthalmologist when working in front of a screen. Inform your ophthalmologist that you work with a computer screen, so that they can consider this in the choice of any required glasses.
● The contrast and brightness of the screen must be well regulated so that it doesn’t cause any discomfort to your eyes. Do some tests to find the optimal conditions to comfortably carry out your computer-based activities.
● Avoid reflections on the screen that make reading difficult. In general the screen should be placed at 90 degrees to any natural light source, or in a way that optimizes readability. In addition, the worktop should have a clear surface, ideally not white, so to avoid any further reflections.
● Take a 15 minute break for every two hours worked (or five minutes for every 45 minutes or 20 seconds for every 20 minutes, according to the American standard) and try to look at objects placed at a distance of at least six meters: this allows your eyes to rest.
● Use a clearly legible font (at least 12-point size), preferably in a dark colour on a light background. You should avoid using the following colour combinations: red and blue; yellow and violet; yellow and green. Red, yellow, green and orange should also not be used as background colours.
● Remember to blink: when you are focused on the screen (i.e. when you read a text), you involuntarily reduce the frequency with which you blink [it is estimated that its reduction may be 66% ([read more)]]. This means a lowering of protection for the front surface of the eye (cornea); to avoid ocular dryness it can be useful to pay attention to NOT reducing levels of blinking, and if necessary, use artificial tears.
OCULAR DISORDERS ASSOCIATED WITH THE USE OF SCREENS
The prolonged use of screens (as well as smartphones or tablets) may result in ocular disorders such as burning, redness, lacrimation or dryness, discomfort to light exposure (photophobia), a sense of tiredness and transient visual blurring or fading (generally referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome) [Porcar E, Pons AM, Lorente A, [“Visual and ocular effects from the use of flat-panel displays”, Int.J. Ophthalmol., Jun 18, 2016; 9 (6): 881-5. doi: 10.18240 / ijo.2016.06.16, eCollection 2016: out of 116 people who used the computer, 72% reported related visual ailments and, in particular, medium-to-severe eye strain (14%), susceptibility to intense light (12 %), blurred vision from afar in spite of possible correction (10%), visual fatigue, dry eye, irritated eyes or burning eyes (9%), difficulty in focusing from one distance to another or headache (8%), blurred vision at close range or medium distance (<4%). Visual symptoms are slightly greater in women and worse with video abuse, especially over six hours of use on the same day
All these disorders can be controlled by reducing the time spent in front of the screen, taking more frequent breaks, or suspending their use for a period of time proportional to the severity of any disturbance (it is recommended, in this case, to temporarily avoid the use of contact lenses and use glasses fitted with anti-reflection lenses).
However it is always advisable to arrange an eye examination if the ailments persist. If you are suffering from conjunctivitis, keratitis and other ocular diseases of an inflammatory nature (especially in an acute form) it may be advisable to minimize the activity performed in front of a screen or suspend it altogether for a short period of time.
WHAT DOES THE WORLD OF RESEARCH SAY?
A scientific study published in 2013 stated that ocular fatigue is the most frequent complaint among people who work with a computer for more than six hours per day. Other ocular disturbances that are mentioned in the study are itching and a burning sensation in the eye. “We also found – write the researchers S. Agarwal, D. Goel and A. Sharma [“[Evaluation of the Factors which Contribute to the Ocular Complaints in Computer Users“, J Clin Diagn Res. 2013 Feb;7(2):331-5. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2013/5150.2760. Epub 2012 Dec 24]] – that maintaining ideal distance from screen, keeping level of eyes above the top of screen, taking frequent breaks, using LCD monitors and using antiglare screen and adjusting brightness levels according to workplace reduced these ocular complaints to a significant level”.
Another study has underlined, among other things, how the use of screens before going to sleep can induce insomnia because it can alter circadian cycles (in particular mobile-phone screens and e-book readers). This effect could be caused, not only by excessive brightness, but also by the frequency of blue light.
Meanwhile, with regards to children and the intensive use of mobile screens, a Korean university study published on BMC Ophthalmology (conducted on 916 very young children) has concluded:
Please note: the use of screens is NOT ASSOCIATED to the occurrence of ocular diseases such as GLAUCOMA, DIABETIC RETINOPATHY, HYPERTENSIVE RETINOPATHY or even to the alteration of the OPTICAL NERVE, and is not the cause of any eventual aggravation.
Stem cells are called “immature” because their main characteristic is that of being able to specialize, in other words, being able to become any tissue and organ of our body. Unfortunately not every tissue of the human body is provided with an area in which stem cells can be produced when we are adults, while at the initial stage of the embryo’s development, all tissue has the ability to produce stem cells. Stem cells can be metaphorically considered “baby cells” that potentially can regenerate countless parts of the body.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF STEM CELLS?
There are 4 different types of stem cells:
totipotent: they can become any cell of the organism (muscular, nervous, etc.);
pluripotent: they can evolve in many cell types, but not in all;
multipotent: they only specialize in a certain type of cell (i.e. nerve cells);
unipotential: they only generate a certain type of cell (i.e cornea, liver, etc.)
Stem cells are also divided between somatic (improperly called “adult”: they are not yet specialized – they are multipotent – and are generally found among the cells in a specific tissue), and embryonic stem cells (early stages of development following fertilization).
HOW ARE STEM CELLS OBTAINED?
The embryo is the source of stem cells par excellence, but the study and use of embryonic stem cells is restricted for ethical reasons, even in countries where it is permitted. As the embryo develops, its cells specialize and loose their ability to transform into any type of cell. However, if you want to give an unborn child the possibility of having some “spare cells” (such as blood, muscular or nerve cells), there is at least the possibility of storing and preserving them freezing the umbilical cord (although there are a number of limits). Stems cells are also found in the amniotic fluid.
There is also the possibility of obtaining stem cells from adult cells; this technique, developed for the first time in Japan in 2006 (by the Nobel Prize winner for medicine, S.Yamanaka), requires “genetic reprogramming”. Some genes can be used to start a rejuvenation of the adult cell, which returns to the stem stage (as if going back in time); once this rejuvenation is started, the same genes that functioned as a “trigger” are removed from the DNA. Given the complexity of the procedure, some teams of researchers have been able to do without those genes, eliminating the risks associated with their use.
Reprogrammed stem cells (iPS) are pluripotent and represent an important frontier of regenerative medicine. In 2009 the University of Wisconsin-Madison published on PNAS the results of some research, which claimed that it was possible to transform adult skin cells into human retinal stem cells after appropriate genetic reprogramming. In the future, these rejuvenated cells will be able to, at least in principle, be used to repair the retina, which can be affected by degenerative diseases particularly in old age. However, at the time of writing, unfortunately this result has not yet been achieved.
In 2012 the Columbia University (U.S.) published a study in Molecular Medicine in which the researchers claimed to have improved the sight of blind test animals using human skin cells that had been reprogrammed (until they had become retinal stem cells).
Yes, stem cells can be obtained from an adult, for example, from the bone marrow (hematopoietic stem cells=blood cell producers), from the adipose tissue (fat) and from a series of specific areas dedicated to the production of stem cells themselves. Regarding the eyes, in particular, on the cornea there is a specific area called limbus (which has the shape of a ring and is located at the border between the transparent front part of the eye, i.e. the cornea, and the white part, i.e. the sclera).
Embryonic stem cells can be obtained by in vitro fertilization in the countries where it is permitted. The problem is that this technique has a precise time limit: up to 5 days from test tube fertilization. Alternatively, in some countries (such as Spain) it is possible to use supernumerary embryos, namely those that are not implanted in the uterus after artificial fertilization. If they are frozen they can “live” for a few years, representing a real stock of embryonic stem cells.
HOW DO STEM CELLS DEVELOP?
Let’s take into consideration the embryonic stem cells that are obtained from a fertilized embryo. These cells can divide and duplicate themselves for a long time, but without differentiation. Therefore, stem cells can generate embryonic germ layers even after being cultured for a virtually indefinite period of time. The 3 types of germ layers originating from stem cells are: ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm. The ectoderm gives rise not only to the brain, the nerves of the spine and the other nerve cells, but also to the hair, skin and teeth, as well as to the sensory cells of the eye, ear, nose and mouth…The mesoderm, on the other hand, gives rise to the muscles, blood, blood vessels, connective tissue and the heart. Finally the endoderm gives rise to the pancreas, the stomach and the liver, to which the lungs and germ cells (ovules and spermatozoa) should be added.
WHAT POSSIBILITIES DO STEM CELLS OFFER?
On the one hand, it is possible to produce cells and tissues that can be implanted. On the other hand, the study of stem cells makes it possible to better understand the prevention and treatment of genetic disorders. Finally, toxicity tests for some medicines can also be performed more easily. There are many diseases that stem cells can help cure: from Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s, from heart attacks to retinal damage.
According to the scientific journal Nature, “adult stem cells have already had clinical success, such as in bone-marrow transplantation for leukaemia treatment, growing new skin layers to treat burns and regenerating corneas”. There is also the potential for retinal regeneration, but at present, even in the U.S., it hasn’t been possible to achieve this ambitious result. Treatment proposals without effective scientific validation must never be taken into consideration.
WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE?
Stem cells can not only give rise to any type of tissue, but in principle, could also allow us to “manufacture” an entire spare organ, which would not cause any form of rejection, being made of cells from the body of the person receiving it. In theory, many degenerative diseases could be treated in this way one day (potentially even retinal diseases). Stem cells are a virtually unlimited reserve of nerve cells, muscle cells, blood cells, etc.
ARE STEM CELLS A MIRACLE?
Probably, defining stem cells as a miracle today is an exaggeration as their clinical use is still very limited. However, if scientific research were to confirm all expectations, then their use would have really enormous potential, allowing the repair of tissues for which today there is no cure.
A possible risk is that a tumour could be induced: the uncontrolled proliferation of stem cells can potentially cause cancer. Furthermore, we have to be careful of stem cells treatments that have not been validated by scientific results. There’s also the risk that reprogrammed adult stem cells may not work exactly like embryonic ones: they are almost the same, but not perfectly identical. For instance, heart cells do not coordinate with each other if they have been induced from adult cells, while their beat occurs in unison if they are developed from embryonic cells.
IN WHICH CASES CAN STEMS CELLS BE USED FOR THE EYES?
With reference to the eyes, the use of stem cells mainly concerns the cornea (already possible) and the retina (not yet possible, as previously stated).
At the retinal level the first experiment on human beings was started in Japan in 2014, on a group of six visually impaired people suffering from AMD (the wet form of age-related macular degeneration that reduced their visual acuity to less then 1/10). Researchers had wished to recover about a tenth of the patients’ visual acuity in this way. The experimental protocol, which uses adult cells genetically reprogrammed back to the stem cell stage (iPS), was approved by the Japanese Ministry of Health in July 2013. In the trial, skin cells (fibroblasts) were “rejuvenated” by manipulating their DNA and then developed up to the stage of retinal cells (retinal pigmented epithelium).
Furthermore, at the time of writing, a study involving people affected by the dry form of AMD and a retinal genetic disease (Stargardt’s maculopathy) is underway in the U.S. This experimental study, carried out using embryonic stem cells, has apparently produced encouraging results (regenerating the retina, at least partially, in more than half of the cases). However, such results have yet to be confirmed and their duration will have to be verified.
HOW DO CORNEAL STEM CELLS WORK?
The corneal limbus (the border of the cornea and the bulbar conjunctiva) is where natural corneal stem cells reside, which serve as a reserve for the regeneration and proliferation of the corneal epithelium. Epithelial stem cells have virtually unlimited potential for cell division. In fact, following stimulus from growth factors, these cells differentiate into ”transit-amplifying cells”, which then replicate and further differentiate until they reach a state of final maturation.
In a healthy subject, it is therefore evident that the presence of efficient stem cells at the corneal limbus level, allows the repair of corneal damage caused by traumatic, infectious and inflammatory phenomena of medium and mild degree. Unfortunately, when a disease or corneal trauma causes an alteration to limbal stem cells leading to a decrease in their number, there is a so-called deficit or limbal insufficiency: as a result, the cornea is no longer able to repair its surface epithelium, which could lead to serious complications that can jeopardize sight. In these cases, great progress has been made by scientific research in recent years: through limbal stem cell transplantations, the corneal epithelium has recovered its ability to regenerate, even if the results are not always satisfactory. However, stem cell transplantation alone does not lead to the recovery of a visual acuity comparable to that prior to trauma, but it is the combination of stem cell transplantation and other surgical procedures (cornea transplantation) that can often give the possibility of improving a patient’s sight, restoring transparency to the damaged cornea.
WHAT ARE THE REAL PERSPECTIVES THAT STEM CELLS OFFER FOR THE RETINA?
It seems that even the adult human retina is endowed with stem cells: extensive research has allowed us to locate these cells in the most peripheral region of the retina itself. In fact, they can be found in the pars plana and pars plicata, where they are present in an indicative measure of one cell for every 500. Retinal stem cells have been identified from the first months after birth to 70 years of age. Even today their field of application is widely experimental, but important studies have been carried out: among other things, attempts have been made to regenerate retinal photoreceptors through their implantation in stem form; however the complexity of the retinal structure and the mechanisms used for vision are obstacles not easily overcome.
Stem/progenitor cell-based interventions have the potential to address blinding retinal diseases that affect hundreds of millions worldwide. Yet no Food and Drug Administration-approved stem cell therapies for retinal disease exist. Although some early-phase trial data are promising, reports of blinding complications from cell interventions remain troubling.
Therefore it will be necessary to ensure that these treatments don’t cause any harm to human health, possibly by developing, in the future, safe and effective therapies.
Researchers in the U.S. are currently carrying out the largest official experiment on stem cells that are being used to treat several pathologies and ocular traumas (affecting the retina and/or the optic nerve): it involves 500 people and, after starting in 2016, will continue until at least 2021. This vast sponsored research uses human stem cells taken from bone marrow. According to some studies that have already been published during the trial, there have been positive results in some patients, but this must be confirmed by further research.
WHAT CAN WE REALLY HOPE FOR?
The hope is that, at least in the future, stem cells can be used to treat several degenerative diseases that, at present, are some of the main causes of blindness (retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, etc.). In the case of genetic degenerative diseases, great potential is given to the combined use of gene therapy (injection of the correct gene under the retina) and stem cells (for example reprogrammed adult ones).
John Gurdon, who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2012, said that “there are very solid perspectives” for the treatment of retinal degeneration with adult stem cells. However, it will be necessary to wait for further studies to be carried out, before a large-scale clinical application is possible, provided that all the phases of the experiments on human beings are successful.
For the correction of myopia, astigmatism, hypermetropia and presbyopia
What is it?
Laser technology allows the surgical correction of the most common vision defects or refractive errors (myopia, astigmatism and hypermetropia) and, in some cases, even presbyopia. As a beam of coherent light, the laser can reshape the cornea: the transparent front part of the eye covering the iris is, in fact, a natural lens, whose focusing ability (“dioptric power”) can be improved.
How can a refractive error be corrected?
The cornea accounts for about 60% of the eye’s total refractive power (40 diopters): it can change the direction of light beams, converging them towards the retina, due to its curvature. By altering corneal thickness, laser refractive surgery aims at ensuring that images come into focus on the retina. In short, we could say that we must flatten the cornea to correct myopia, whereas we need to increase its curvature to correct hypermetropia.
What are the main techniques?
There are three techniques that are currently the most widespread:
a) Lasik: a small “flap” is created on the cornea, by cutting horizontally through the corneal epithelium, Bowman’s layer and superficial stroma. This action can be performed with a precision scalpel called microkeratome, or with another high precision high speed laser (femtosecond laser). After folding the flap back, the cornea is made thinner with an excimer laser and then the flap is repositioned.
Advantages: Lasik surgery is usually not painful and sight is recovered immediately after the treatment.
Disadvantages: creating the flap is a risky procedure and its success largely depends on a surgeon’s technical ability. The flap could still be slightly raised after one year, thus never fully adhering to the stoma below; in this case, an accidental shift can occur after a trauma. Infectious contaminations can also occur under the flap itself.
b) PRK (PhotoRefractive Keratectomy): with this procedure, the laser alters the curvature of the anterior cornea after the removal of the corneal epithelium (the most external layer of the cornea). After the surgery, patients are required to use soft contact lenses with no refractive power, which are intended to protect their eyes while the cornea’s outermost layer regenerates (re-epithelialization takes 4-5 days).
Advantages: PRK is the easiest procedure, from a technical point of view. The absence of a surgical flap also reduces long term complications.
Disadvantages: post-surgery pain and increased risk of developing post-surgery corneal opacity.
c) Lasek: this procedure is substantially comparable to PRK, as both techniques imply the removal of corneal epithelium. However, while the PRK procedure entirely removes it, the epithelium is repositioned over the eye after the LASEK treatment. With this technique, the corneal epithelium is first lifted, then a laser beam reshapes the cornea to achieve the desired refractive results and, at the end, the epithelium flap is put back into place (protected by a contact lens). The repositioned epithelium protects the regenerating one, but its accidental shift doesn’t compromise the surgical result.
Which errors can be treated by excimer laser?
Myopia, hypermetropia and astigmatism (which can be associated to other refractive errors) and, in recent years, also presbyopia (to be evaluated with great care). A larger amount of corneal tissue must be removed to correct astigmatism and myopia compared to hypermetropia, for the same diopters.
WHY CHOOSE ONE TECHNIQUE OVER ANOTHER?
The choice pertains to the ophthalmologist who performs the surgery. Generally speaking, LASIK is preferred for slight-moderate myopia, whereas PRK and LASEK are chosen in the case of high myopia.
WHEN IS THE SURGERY CONTRAINDICATED?
Refractive surgery aims to correct refractive errors by reshaping the cornea through a reduction of its thickness. One of the main contraindication is a cornea which is too thin. Therefore its thickness must always be measured before surgery (corneal pachymetry).
Another contraindication is ocular dryness. The quantity of secreted tears can be evaluated through a test of lacrimation and people with dry eyes can be excluded. Also, all pathologies that affect the cornea represent a limit to laser refractive surgery, particularly in people affected by keratoconus.
Myopia can be treated successfully and without risks up to 10-12 dioptres; beyond these values the risks for the eye become serious; the same is for hypermetropia that is greater than 5-6 dioptres, for which laser treatment is not always totally successful.
WHEN SHOULD YOU HAVE SURGERY?
The best age to undergo refractive surgery is between 25 and 40 years of age. Refractive errors can significantly worsen before 25 years of age, therefore nullifying the effects of the treatment. After 40 years of age, the onset of presbyopia increases the risks of suffering from dry eye syndrome, with a higher chance of developing a burning sensation after surgery. Also, the refractive error must be stable for at least 1-2 years prior to surgery.
ARE THERE PERSONS FOR WHOM LASER SURGERY IS PARTICULARLY RECOMMENDED?
People who use contact lenses inappropriately tend to contract infections, and therefore could benefit from ambulatory surgery. However, certain categories of people may experience more problems from wearing contact lenses or eyeglasses – because of their job, hobby or sport – than from undergoing laser surgery.
In some visually impaired people, there’s a considerable difference between the two eyes; this situation cannot be completely corrected with eyeglasses, because our brain doesn’t tolerate differences greater than 3 dioptres. In these cases, the possible solutions are laser refractive surgery or the correct use of contact lenses.
In conclusion, refractive surgery not only has aesthetic purposes (eliminating the use of eyeglasses) but also functional ones. However, it is generally considered a form of cosmetic surgery and is only paid for by the National Health System in some specific cases, i.e. when there is a strong difference of visus between the two eyes (severe anisometropia) or in the case of intolerance to contact lenses.[[At the moment of writing, the criteria for laser surgery to be considered a medical-surgical treatment are:
Anisometropia greater than 4 diopters of spherical equivalent (difference between the two eyes), which should not have been caused by previous refractive surgery, and only after after verifying the presence of single binocular vision (when intolerance to contact lenses has been certified);
Astigmatism of at least 4 diopters
Strong differences between the visus of the two eyes due to previous interventions (limited to the operated eye and not caused by refractive surgery), in order to “level” the two eyes
Photo-therapeutic keratectomy (PTK) performed for corneal opacities, corneal tumors, scars, irregular astigmatism, corneal dystrophies and unfortunate outcomes of refractive surgery
Trauma consequences or anatomical malformations such as to prevent the application of glasses (only in the cases where intolerance to corneal contact lenses has been certified).
Please note that the certification to contact lenses intolerance – when required – must be issued by a public institution other than the one in which the intervention is performed. Amongst other things, the documentation must be accompanied by photographs.]]
CAN EYES RECOVER FROM MYOPIA?
No, but myopia can be corrected. A myopic eye stays that way, but after surgery, a patient can see clearly (even though a second laser surgery can sometimes be necessary). This means that problems with the retina, eye pressure and other issues are not eliminated by refractive surgery. People with retinal problems, who undergo regular check-ups every year, must continue to do so even if they can see clearly after refractive surgery. Short-sighted people are used to seeing well at a close distance. Refractive surgery makes them emmetropic, that is to say without any apparent visual impairment. However, after the age of 40 presbyopia isn’t compensated by myopia and patients will see clearly at a close distance only by using eyeglasses (a likely event in any case, since refractive errors tend to physiologically worsen with age).
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE BEFORE SURGERY?
The use of contact lenses must be avoided for as long as possible before surgery. The length of the interruption depends on the patient’s eye; but in any case, surgery cannot be performed until two weeks from the interruption. Contact lenses can deform the cornea and cause problems. Patients should frequent environments that can favor ocular infection in the days before the surgery; in fact, even a simple conjunctivitis could undermine the result. Exposure to strong wind must be avoided at all costs (i.e. going on a motorbike without protection), as well as contact with people affected by infective conjunctivitis or keratitis.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE AFTER SURGERY?
Refractive surgery lasts a few minutes and its results are immediate. After surgery, a patient gets up from the surgical table and can generally see clearly. This is why postoperative risks and the doctor’s recommendations are sometimes undervalued. On the contrary, it is extremely important to follow the doctor’s prescriptions closely and adhere to their therapy with regularity and precision.
In the period following the operation, the eye is more delicate. A possible infection could jeopardise the surgical result and cause severe consequences. Patients should avoid outdoor activities, smoky environments, using motorbikes or scooters and going to the swimming pool (as chlorine causes eye irritation). Reading, using a computer, going to the cinema and watching TV is perfectly fine. Keeping the eyes well hydrated is essential and artificial tears should frequently be applied. Eye drops dosage also depends on the environment: working spaces are often very dry, due to heating in winter and air conditioning in summer, causing the tear film to evaporate too quickly.
WHAT TYPE OF ANESTHESIA IS USED?
Refractive surgery with excimer lasers requires topical anesthesia: anesthetic eye drops are instilled on the ocular surface. Patients undergoing surgery won’t feel any pain. They will have to stare at a light (called “mira”). This kind of anesthesia doesn’t inhibit ocular movements and patients must keep their eyes as still as possible.
HOW SURE CAN PATIENTS BE OF NO LONGER NEEDING THEIR GLASSES?
It is possible, but not guaranteed, that patients will no longer need glasses after surgery. If the surgery is successful, there should be no problem, at least in the short term. However there is no assurance that the refractive defect will be completely eliminated, as many factors come into play. Furthermore the refractive error could return (i.e. myopia), even if with reduced intensity compared to the level prior to surgery. In this case a second surgical intervention could be necessary, although it is possible that it will not permanently eliminate the refractive error and patients may still need eyeglasses or contact lenses. To give an idea of the incidence of myopic regression, out of a sample of 90 eyes with about -8 diopters on average (before surgery), six months after the laser surgery was completed, a measurement of -1.5 diopters was recorded (considering only people with a myopic regression).
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE RISKS?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the highest US government body for the protection and promotion of public health, the following side effects may occur (or even real eye damage in the worst cases):
Ocular dryness (dry eye syndrome), “which can be severe”. In fact, after surgery, it may be necessary to frequently instill artificial tears and use humectants (eye gel), even though there was no need of them before
The use of eyeglasses or contact lenses may still be necessary after laser surgery (even though with a lower prescription). In fact it is not always possible to eliminate the refractive error. According to a study published on the American Journal of Ophthalmology “up to 28% of patients who undergo refractive surgery continue to experience a worsening of their sight” (in the case of lasik surgery for myopia)
The risk of experiencing halos, glare, starburst (star-shaped light vision) and double vision, all visual problems “that could be debilitating”
According to the FDA, the “loss of sight” can occur in extreme cases. Although very rare, this is anyway a possibility.
WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE INFORMED CONSENT THAT YOU SUBSCRIBE TO IN ITALY?
In brief, the informed consent approved by the Italian Society of Ophthalmology (SOI), reads as follows:
1. Refractive errors (myopia, hypermetropia and astigmatism) “can be corrected with a wide margin of safety and precision by excimer lasers”
2. “Refractive surgery aims to only correct refractive errors and does not alter other pathologies that may be associated to such visual defects”
3. Refractive surgery will not improve eyesight any better than what can be achieved through the use of eyeglasses or contact lenses
4. The intervention cannot guarantee the best vision possible without eyeglasses. In some cases a small “retouch” could be necessary to optimize the result
5. “In the case of myopic patients aged above 45 years, the complete elimination of myopia will result in the immediate need for an optical correction for farsightedness” (to correct presbyopia, previously compensated by myopia)
6. Even if the surgery is correctly performed, unpredictable individual factors, which are “unrelated to a surgeon’s skill and laser precision, can affect the recovery and therefore the results. As a consequence, it is not possible to guarantee with absolute certainty the planned result”
7. Not all individuals and not all eyes are suitable to laser surgery on the cornea. In fact, people affected by certain general or systemic diseases (immunosuppression, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, diabetes, epilepsy, etc) or in the presence of certain general conditions (pacemaker, professional exposure to UV or blue light, pregnancy, breast feeding) and people taking a series of drugs (hypotensive, contraceptives, hormones, amiodarone, chloroquine, drugs against migraine, anti-acne) that can affect postoperative recovery and make the surgery result unpredictable; therefore the advisability to undergo refractive surgery should be carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis.
There are various eye diseases and conditions (high degenerative myopia, shallow anterior chamber, glaucoma, cataract, recurrent anterior and posterior ocular inflammations, burns consequences, ocular surface disease such as dry eye and all palpebral anomalies), and in particular affecting the cornea (keratitis, corneal ectasia, keratoconus, keratoglobus, endothelial dystrophy), that can condition or even compromise the progression of the refractive error after surgery, making the result unpredictable. For this reason, the possibility of surgery must be carefully assessed in person
8. “The cornea is the structure that will be thinned by the surgery, therefore it must have a thickness which is appropriate to the extent of the error to be corrected and to the diameter of the optical area to be treated, which is necessary to ensure complete coverage of the pupil even in poor lighting conditions”
9. After surgery (PRK, lasik, lasek) “the patient is required to apply with extreme care the prescribed eye drop medications, and according to the indicated modalities”. In fact “negligence in following the postoperative therapy and in undergoing specialist check-ups can affect the final refractive result and cause complications”.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN COMPLICATIONS OF EXCIMER LASER SURGERY?
Infection: it is an extremely rare complication. In the case of an infection that is resistant to antibiotics and where there is reduced immunity”, the situation may be a serious one and lead to the loss of sight or even of the eye. This eventuality is so exceptional that it is impossible to evaluate its frequency”
Decentered treatment (the cornea is not reshaped in the right place): extremely rare with contemporary lasers, which are equipped with a centering control system
Incomplete refractive results: over or under correction are possible, in particular after the correction of high refractive errors. A second procedure can be performed, if necessary
Inadequate optical area: “when the diameter of the pupil in low lighting conditions is wider than the diameter of the flap, night glare may occur, which can make driving at night very difficult. This situation may occur also when using topical medications (i.e. vasoconstrictor eye drops) or general medications (antimotion sickness substances [= such as antiemetics for travel sickness)] that can dilate the pupil”
Dry eye: this syndrome may occur for some months after surgery, requiring the application of artificial tears several times per day. This is the most frequent complication of all the laser techniques, and in particular for lasik; it usually disappears or significantly decreases within one year from surgery (but it is not guaranteed).
Other extremely rare complications listed in the document include
Formation of corneal ulcers (lesions of the ocular surface)
Non-specific diffuse interstitial keratitis
Corneal colliquation (disintegration of the cornea)
Other unknown complications may occur: the outcome of long term studies may reveal additional risks that are unknown at present.
PRK and Lasek specific complication:
Re-epithelialization (which is the reconstitution of superficial corneal tissue) may be delayed due to the nature and conformation of the patient’s epithelium
After the intervention, a loss of clarity of the cornea may occur at various degrees (corneal haze) and it could be associated to an irregular corneal surface in the most serious cases. “Such opacity – the SOI writes – is generally reversible in a variable time (even several months) and compromises correct vision. Sometimes a second laser surgery could be necessary to smooth the corneal surface (PTK)”.
Lasik specific complications:
Incomplete, damaged and decentralized corneal flap: in this case, the flap will be repositioned and the surgeon may decide to postpone the surgery for several months. However, this eventuality “ is extremely rare today”, the SOI assures
Diffuse lamellar keratitis (also known as Sands of the Sahara) of varying severity: it heals without any inconvenience if promptly and properly treated. Careful evaluation after surgery is necessary to prevent it.
WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW, IN BRIEF?
According to the Italian Society of Ophthalmology, your ophthalmologist must explain, amongst other things, that:
1. Excimer laser surgery is used to reduce the dependence on eyeglasses and contact lenses
2. Excimer laser treatment does not eliminate the need of eyeglasses or contact lenses in all cases
3. Excimer laser treatment does not cure other eye diseases
4. Excimer laser treatment does not stop the (physiological) progression of myopia
5. Complications are possible, especially if the prescribed therapies are not followed and follow-up examinations are not performed
6. After the correction of short-sightedness, a pair of glasses for farsightedness may be immediately necessary.
Shojaei A, Eslani M, Vali Y, Mansouri M, Dadman N, Yaseri M., “Effect of timolol on refractive outcomes in eyes with myopic regression after laser in situ keratomileusis: a prospective randomized clinical trial“, Am J Ophthalmol. 2012 Nov;154(5):790-798.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.ajo.2012.05.013. Epub 2012 Aug 28.