Fine print. Roadway signs. An intriguing program on TV. These are all images you would like to see clearly. Unfortunately for some, these objects may be more focused than for others. How do we see in the first place? Light strikes the tissue at the back of the eye, called the ‘retina.’ It is then converted into impulses which are sent to the brain and translated as images. Occasionally this process is interrupted by a variety of conditions called ‘refractive errors.’ Nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism are types of refractive errors.
Nearsightedness, or ‘myopia,’ is a condition in which the eyeball is too long, causing images to be processed in the front of the retina. Patients who are nearsighted may be unable to clearly read road signs or distant objects. However, objects which are near are able to be clearly seen.
Farsightedness, also known as ‘hyperopia,’ is a condition in which the eyeball is too short. This makes it difficult to see objects up close.
Astigmatism occurs when the cornea is not perfectly round. This causes irregular focus which leads to blurry or distorted vision.
It is important to remember that refractive errors are not diseases. They are conditions which can be corrected through ‘Photorefractive Keratectomy,’ or PRK. This outpatient surgical procedure is used to treat nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. PRK utilizes a laser to sculpt the cornea, permanently changing its shape to improve focus.
PRK procedures are usually quick– lasting about 15 minutes. During the procedure, the epithelium or outer layer of the cornea is removed. A laser then sculpts the surface according to patient’s condition.
After surgery, a protective ‘bandage’ lens is placed over the eye. The patient is given eye drops which must be used for a month. Doctors may recommend taking 3 days off from work to recover. Patients may experience discomfort, which is often manageable with over the counter pain medication. In some cases, topical anesthetics or prescription strength medication may be needed to control pain.
You might wonder why you should consider PRK instead of a Lasik procedure. Lasik surgery creates a corneal flap, which might dislodge accidentally during high-risk and high-intensity activity. PRK does not create a flap, which may better suit individuals who lead a highly active lifestyle.
You might be a candidate for PRK if you are over 18 years of age, have no significant skin or systemic diseases which could affect healing, do not have a history of excessive scarring, and do not have any eye diseases.
PRK candidates need to hold realistic expectations of their results. PRK surgery allows for patients to engage in everyday tasks without the need for corrective lenses. Patients who expect perfect vision without corrective lenses may be disappointed. Even so, 90% of PRK patients report 20/40 vision without the use of corrective lenses.
Talk to your ophthalmologist to find out if you are a candidate for PRK, or if PRK is the right procedure for you. Remember to have routine eye exams to ensure your vision is healthy.