LASIK technology continues to advance

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If you wear contacts, you 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.

The options for eye care continue to get better, said Dr. Craig Eckroth, an optometrist with Eyecare Specialties of Craig, Meeker and Steamboat Springs.

LASIK eye surgery has been a popular corrective eye surgery for at least the past five to 10 years, he said.

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

Recent developments with the varying vision levels laser surgery can correct and the advent of newer lasers mean even higher-order aberrations can be corrected, he said.

Dr. Gary Migues, an optometrist with Steamboat Vision Clinic in Steamboat Springs, said technological advancements are usually good news for glasses or contact wearers.

"Because of these new lasers and new technologies, we can deal with almost anything," he said. "People who may not have been good candidates for the procedure five years ago are surprised that they are now. We have the ability to correct a wider range of issues."

Although LASIK has continued to grow in popularity, Migues says he does not see as many patients interested in LASIK because so many people already have had it done.

"In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we were seeing a lot of patients. Now, just because of our community, there are less people doing it," he said.

Another major breakthrough that the Food and Drug Administration has recently approved is a new type of therapy for people who wear contact lenses on a regular basis.

It is called Corneal Refractive Therapy, or CRT. Like any type of therapy, Eckroth said this procedure might not be for everyone.

In the therapy, patients wear their contacts at night while sleeping, he said.

The rigid nighttime contact lenses reshape the front of the eye to correct the patient's eyesight for the next day.

"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 in patients who use the lenses.

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

Another positive advancement Eckroth has seen recently is a new device that allows doctors to detect and track glaucoma in patients.

The Heidelberg Retinal Tomograph, or HRT, is able to scan the optic nerve of an eye and generate a 3-D image of the optic fibers. Doctors are then able to track the degeneration of the fibers over 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 immediately. There is no cure for glaucoma.

Dr. Mark Helm of the Helm Eye Center in Steamboat Springs said that there have been advances made that make the procedures safer and more customized for each patient's needs.

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

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

Helm also said there have been advancements in contact lenses recently that make them more convenient for patients who are regular wearers.

In the past one or two years, there have been contacts that emerged on the market that allow a patient to wear one pair of lenses for as long as 30 days.

Migues said wearing contacts in high-altitude places such as Northwest Colorado can wreak havoc on a contact wearer, which is why he prescribes his patients special contacts.

"There always seems to be a new contact lens around the corner," he said. "Most contacts are not made for this mountain climate, they're perfect if you live at sea-level or in humidity. It's certainly more challenging to wear contacts here."

To make it easier on parents with small children, Eyecare Specialties and other Yampa Valley vision clinics participate in a national infancy program that allow parents a one-time visit for infants free of charge. The hope is that more children will have their eyes checked before any issue develops.

Interested parents are encouraged to check out which vision clinics participate in the program at the American Optometric Association's Web site, at www.aoa.org.

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