Why Is LASIK Surgery Not Performed On Kids
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LASIK eye surgery, a procedure used to change the shape of the cornea of the eye in order to correct vision problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, is gaining in popularity..
Since LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) has been effective in helping so many people live free of their glasses or contacts, parents of children with vision problems may be wondering whether LASIK is an option for their children's health. The subject is controversial, with most ophthalmologists reluctant to treat a still-developing eye. But there are some cases in which doctors believe children may benefit from LASIK.
The Argument Against LASIK for Children
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved LASIK surgery for people under 18 years of age.
"Children are not candidates" for LASIK surgery, says Wayne Bizer, DO, an ophthalmologist at the Fort Lauderdale Eye Institute and chairman of the ophthalmology department at Nova-Southeastern University in Davie, Fla. "The eye of a child is continuing to grow."
Since young eyes are still developing, there is a good chance that children's vision will continue to change even after LASIK surgery.
Because of this, Dr. Bizer says that LASIK surgery should not be performed until a person's vision becomes stable. The growth of the eye and the length of the eyeball typically stabilize around age 21, he adds.
The FDA does not recommend LASIK for people who have had a change in their contact lens or eyeglass prescription in the previous year. These prescription changes are common well into the late teens and early 20s.
"We are obligated to get [a potential patient's] previous eyeglasses measurement and see how it compares to what we measure today," says Bizer. He adds that if there is a significant change from measure to measure, which is the case in many kids with vision problems, the patient is probably not a candidate for LASIK.
Another reason that LASIK surgery is not generally practiced in children is because, although a generally safe and effective procedure, it is an elective surgery that has been associated with serious complications. Some patients who have undergone LASIK surgery end up with debilitating vision problems (double vision, problems with night vision, glare, halos), severe dry-eye syndrome, and even loss of vision.
How LASIK May Help Some Children
Researchers are studying the effects of laser eye surgery in some children with rare vision problems. For example, laser eye surgery has shown promise in children who have a condition in which one eye is grossly nearsighted or farsighted compared to the other eye. In these children, the brain may shut down the eye with the vision problem, which could potentially cause the eye to atrophy due to lack of use.
"In children, that can happen very quickly," says Bizer. "If something is not done about it before the age of 7, the eye will be permanently lost."
These children would ideally be treated with a contact lens. But if that doesn't work, there is some evidence laser eye surgery could be beneficial.
While researchers are currently looking into LASIK and other laser eye surgeries for the treatment of rare vision problems, most children should wait until their eyes have fully grown and developed before considering surgical vision correction.
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