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What is Radial Keratotomy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Radial keratotomy, also known as RK, is a surgical procedure performed on the eye to correct myopia. This surgery is used to correct cases of mild to moderate nearsightedness. RK, like any surgery, does come with some risks which should be weighed before the procedure to make sure that it is the best choice for the patient. A surgeon can discuss the risks and benefits of an individual case with the patient to help the patient reach an informed decision.

In a radial keratotomy procedure, the patient is given a local anesthetic and the surgeon makes a series of radial cuts around the cornea, extending from the middle of the cornea to the edges. The cuts are quite deep as a general rule. During the healing process, the cuts promote bulging along the edges of the cornea, which flattens the center, correcting the patient's vision. Radial keratotomy is an outpatient procedure, although patients cannot drive immediately afterwards and will need to make transportation arrangements.

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Typically, the surgery is performed on only one eye at a time. The other eye is corrected with a contact lens while the eye which underwent surgery is allowed to heal. For several days, the patient can experience pain and blurred vision. Instability in the eye can persist for up to a year, and it is not advisable to drive until vision has fully stabilized in the involved eye. During follow up appointments, the surgeon can assess how well the correction worked, and make recommendations for surgery on the other eye. It is important to note that the outcome of RK surgery in one eye does not predict the outcome in the other.

Correction with radial keratotomy is not guaranteed. The eye may be overcorrected, in which case the patient will be farsighted, or undercorrected, leading to the persistence of myopia. Sometimes it is necessary to wear corrective lenses after RK surgery to address this issue. Other complications of radial keratotomy can include infection, rupture, perforation, and persistent vision problems including halos, starbursts, and glare.

One interesting side effect of radial keratotomy was discovered entirely by accident when a climber ascending Mount Everest began to experience vision problems: Apparently, at high altitudes, vision problems can occur in patients who have undergone this procedure. Radial keratotomy is only one among several surgical options available to address nearsightedness, and patients can discuss their choices with a surgeon to learn more about what may be best for their situation.

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