What are Ophthalmic Lasers?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Ophthalmic lasers are used by specially trained physicians to perform many delicate, precise procedures involving ocular treatment. Lasers used for medicinal purposes vary in the amount and type of energy produced. Some lasers cut tissue, while others inhibit bleeding by cauterizing blood vessels. Others lasers provide combination treatment and can both cut tissue and stop bleeding. Ophthalmologists use laser technology for a variety of vision treatments.

A laser generally consists of an electric current flowing through a plasma tube that contains gas or a solid crystal substance. The energy produced in this manner is emitted as a concentrated beam of light. Manufacturers usually name ophthalmic lasers for the substance contained within the plasma tube. Argon lasers emit a greenish light beam, which produces heat and aids in coagulation. Yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) lasers produce a higher-powered beam, useful for cutting tissue.

Ophthalmic lasers allow physicians to perform delicate procedures quickly with minimal discomfort to patients. As the eye is subject to less actual physical contact, laser ophthalmic surgeries have fewer risks of infection. Since these procedures are typically less intrusive and cause less tissue trauma, the surgery is performed on an outpatient basis, which usually requires less recuperation time.


Physicians often employ heat-producing argon lasers for cauterization purposes. These ophthalmic lasers might be used for sealing hemorrhages from minute blood vessels or for repairing retinal holes or tears in patients with diabetic retinopathy. This laser might also be used to help improve the vision of those with hemorrhage or scarring, which are commonly found in patients having macular degeneration. Ophthalmologists also use argon lasers to increase fluid drainage for persons suffering from open angle glaucoma.

An Excimerâ„¢ is one of the ophthalmic lasers commonly used for laser in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK) ocular treatments. This device can eliminate tissue that is a fraction of a hair in width with each pulse. This type of ophthalmic surgery involves removing small amounts of the normally rounded cornea, forming a flattened surface. The process changes light refraction into the eye, altering focus and improving vision.

A holmium laser typically uses infrared light beams to reshape the cornea by constricting tissue without cutting. Ophthalmologists generally use this procedure for correcting astigmatism and farsightedness. When medication proves ineffective, physicians might also use a YAG ophthalmic laser to put microscopic holes in the iris, allowing for proper fluid circulation and drainage in patients suffering from closed angle glaucoma.


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