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Eye Care's Clear Future

If the eyes are "the windows to the soul" then recent advancements in ophthalmology are helping to ensure that our visual portals stay clear and bright well into the future. As Northeast Pennsylvania's baby boomers reach retirement age, and life expectancy continues to increase, state-of-the-art eye care is fast becoming a major component of the vast health care market.

According to the Vision Council of America, six in 10 adults in the U.S. need some type of corrective eye wear, and that number is beginning to grow as the population ages. Billions of dollars in research is being done throughout the world to improve eye care for the millions of patients in need of state-of-the-art, cost-effective treatment and a number of local physicians are on the cutting edge of that technology.

One of the more novel advancements in eye care is Corneal Refractive Therapy or orthokeratotomy, which allows users to wear specially-developed, gas-permeable lenses that work to reshape the cornea while they sleep. In the morning, the lenses are removed and patients experience clear, 20/20 vision throughout the day.

"CRT is an effective, non-surgical alternative to Lasik, " said Dr. Robert Blase of Eye Care Specialists and one of the pioneers of CRT in the area. "The technology is fully reversible and cost-effective with very few complications."

Blase said he has used CRT on more than 1, 000 patients since 2003 and the results are similar to LASIK surgery. According to Blase, another important benefit of CRT is that patients generally will not experience progression of the underlying eye problem, as is often the case with glasses or standard contact lenses.

"My first patient was a 9-year-old boy, " explained Blase. "He's attending college this year and his myopia hasn't progressed with treatment." Blase added that the total cost for the young man's ongoing CRT carewas around $2, 500.

Another eye care specialty that is experiencing a wave of innovation is in the area of cataract surgery. According to the Journal of Investigative Ophthalmology and Vision, cataract surgery is "the most commonly performed ophthalmic procedure." The advent of surgically-implanted multifocal lenses now eliminates the need for reading glasses in post-surgical patients.

"The TECNIS.5 multifocal lens is a fascinating development and in my opinion, the best lens in the world, " said Dr. Frank Bucci of Bucci Laser Vision. "The old implanted lenses allowed a patient to see across the room but they'd still needed glasses to read. With this new lens, 99 percent of people will have 20/20 vision and can throw their glasses away."

"Knowledge is vital, " explained Bucci. "And accurate information will cause the technologies to spread."

Bucci, who also operates a large not-for-profit ophthalmology center in Lima, Peru, stated that he has implanted more multifocal lenses than any surgeon in the world and has been on the cutting edge of the technology since its inception.

"Sixty is the new 40, " joked Bucci. "And baby boomers still want to look good when they reach 65. They don't want to wear glasses"

Bucci stated that most insurance coverage pays for standard cataract surgery with a "monofocal" implanted lens and that a patient must pay out-of-pocket for the new TECNIS lens.

"People want to look good, " Bucci added. "In the end, people are willing to pay for 'value-added.' "

According to Medicine.net, laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis or LASIK is a laser eye procedure designed to change the shape of the cornea to eliminate or reduce the need for glasses and contact lenses in cases of severe myopia or nearsightedness.

Recent advancements in LASIK surgery have allowed physicians to perform the procedure using laser technology which produces much better results and fewer complications.

"The IntraLase.5 technology has revolutionized the industry, " said Dr. Harvey Riser of Eye Care Specialists. "It's a more precise, painless procedure and the results have been impressive."

Riser said that while the laser technique can be 20 percent more expensive than the old "blade" procedure, the technology is so far advanced that today he uses IntraLase exclusively for all his LASIK patients.

"I'll never go back and do a blade procedure again, " stated Riser. "The laser is much more precise and safer for my patients."

A number of promising eye care innovations, such as ultrasound cataract technology and genetic testing are on the horizon, and the aforementioned doctors plan to lead the way into a bright future.

By Steven Fondo - I am a working feature correspondent at a large daily newspaper in PA. My freelance work has appeared in a number of print and online publications.  





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