ACT News

Canberra home for new eye opening surgery

Ophthalmologist Iain Dunlopis firmly focused on the microscope attached to the laser in front of him, his hands working with perfect precision on the eye magnified on the large screen above his head.

It takes less than 15 minutes for Dr Dunlop to complete the delicate procedure on the patient's first eye before he moves on to the second eye and repeats the process with the same accuracy and care. 

He has just completed a pioneering keyhole laser eye surgery, and all in less than half an hour.

Canberra Eye Laser in Phillip is the only place in Australia  where the keyhole flapless Lasik surgery known as small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE) is offered.

The procedure is a single-step process to correct short-sightedness and astigmatism.

It does not require a ''flap'' to be lifted from the cornea, as traditional laser eye surgery does, making it safer, according to Dr Dunlop, the director of Canberra Eye Laser.

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Dr Dunlop – who has performed about 200 of the procedures – said the keyhole surgery meant a smaller incision was used, but the same effect was achieved. 

''The front of your eye is curved and it is a lens. With short-sightedness, you want to flatten it, and for long-sightedness, you want to steepen it,'' he said. 

''This technology works with short-sightedness, and you flatten it by taking a little piece out, like taking a layer out of a layer cake, and the whole cake gets a bit thinner. But because you're not lifting a flap to do it, it's almost as strong as it was right at the beginning.''

Dr Dunlop said with the SMILE procedure, there was minimal disruption to the cornea and the corneal strength was maintained.

''It's better for sportspeople who might be hit in the eye after their surgery because there's no flap to be moved. Instead [of] vapourising tissue with one type of laser, we can use a very accurate cutting laser to actually take the piece out,'' he said. 

The procedure costs about $6200 for both eyes. It is not covered by Medicare or most health funds. 

Orthoptist Wendy Holland said the SMILE procedure allowed the shape of the cornea to be changed, but the procedure could be done only on people who were short-sighted or with astigmatism, which is a refractive error in which the eye is unable to focus images clearly. 

''The advantage of SMILE is that it is keyhole, so there's much less invasion, there's much quicker healing on the eye and it leaves the cornea much more structurally intact,'' she said. 

Dr Dunlop, who has been doing laser eye surgery since 1993, said recovery was the same as traditional laser eye surgeries, and people were typically able to return to work and driving within three or four days. 

He said the SMILE procedure was not yet widely available in Australia and the technology required to do it was a ''very significant infrastructure cost''.

''Technology has finally met our hopes but it's expensive and that machine (at Canberra Eye Laser) is the only one that's in Australia that's set up to do this procedure,'' he said.

''I think in 10 years, this is going to be the standard way of doing it. But it's just a matter of the technology of the other manufacturers catching up.''