LASIK continues to improve

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Those who wear contact lenses know how annoying it can be to put them in, take them out, clean them and, of course, deal with dust, strong winds and water.

But the options for eye care continue to get better, said Dr. Craig Eckroth, an optometrist at Eyecare Specialists.

LASIK eye surgery has been an increasingly popular corrective eye surgery option for the past decade, Eyecare Specialists office manager Julie Benefiel said.

Eckroth said LASIK, like most surgeries, is not for everyone, but for the right candidate, it can mean seeing better without the use of glasses.

Eckroth said recent developments have enabled laser surgery to correct more vision issues. With newer lasers, even higher-order aberrations now can be corrected.

Eckroth said LASIK surgeries can't be performed in his office, but he can provide all pre- and post-operation consultations.

"Interest in LASIK is usually pretty steady," he said. "It does pick up in the spring, though, when people are getting ready for the summer."

Another major breakthrough in corrective eye care is a type of therapy recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people who wear contact lenses on a regular basis.

The method, called Corneal Refractive Therapy, or CRT, involves patients wearing their contacts while they sleep. The special contacts reshape the front of the eyes to correct the patient's eyesight for the next day. Like any type of therapy, Eckroth said, the procedure is not for everyone.

"A real advantage is that there is no permanent change, so people whose vision is still changing, like teenagers, can still use the contacts," he said.

The contacts were approved three years ago, and since then, Eckroth has seen a lot of enthusiasm from patients who use them.

"Patients like the freedom of not having to wear contacts all day," he said.

Another advancement Eck--roth has seen is a new device that allows doctors to detect and track glaucoma in patients.

The Heidelberg Retinal Tomograph, or HRT, scans the optic nerve of an eye and generates a 3-D image of the optic fibers. Doctors are able to track the degeneration of the fibers throughout time to determine how severe a patient's condition is and how quickly it develops.

This allows doctors to detect glaucoma sooner and treat it quicker, though there is no cure.

Dr. Mark Helm of the Helm Eye Center in Steamboat Springs echoed Eckroth's comments about LASIK, saying the procedure is better than ever.

"It has always been extremely good," he said. "Now, it's extremely, extremely good."

Helm said there have been advances that make the procedure safer and more customized.

"People think it's unsafe, but LASIK is more safe than wearing contacts," he said.

Helm said the surgery still is developing in terms of correcting near-distance vision problems.

Helm also said there have been advancements in contact lenses that make them more convenient for patients who wear them regularly.

In the past two years, contacts have been developed that allow users to wear a pair continuously for as long as 30 days. "You put them in and don't touch them," he said.

The new contacts are made out of silicon, which means they are gentler on the eyes and more tolerant of exterior forces.

Helm is an ophthalmologist, which means he is licensed to perform eye surgeries.

"We do everything," he said. "If you need LASIK, we take care of it. If you need glasses, we take care of it."

In addition to the more technical advancements in optometry, there have been some improvements made for people who wear eyeglasses.

Eckroth said advancements include new materials that make eyeglasses more fashionable and practical than eyeglasses of the past. Also, new plastics allow stronger prescriptions to have thinner lenses.

Eckroth recommends that people with vision problems see an eye doctor every six to 12 months and that people with normal vision see an eye doctor every three to five years.

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