What Is an Excimer Laser?

Mary McMahon

An excimer laser is a laser which produces energy in the ultraviolet spectrum. This type of laser has a number of applications, with one of the most famous being use in opthalmologic procedures like LASIK eye surgery. The earliest versions of these lasers were developed in the 1970s in Russia, and by the 1980s, the potential applications of this laser in surgery were being recognized. Regulatory agencies have approved a number of excimer laser designs for use in eye surgery.

An excimer laser is a cool laser.
An excimer laser is a cool laser.

The laser contains a mixture of gases which are excited with electricity to produce a dimer, a type of pseudomolecule. The term “excimer laser” is derived from “excited dimer.” The excimer laser is a type of cool laser, meaning that it does not generate heat, and it can be highly precise, which is critical for operations in which fine detail is required. When objects are targeted with this type of laser, they cannot absorb the energy, and as a result, the upper layers of the object start to break down. The energy dissipates quickly, limiting risks of lingering radiation.

Excimer lasers are used for eye surgery.
Excimer lasers are used for eye surgery.

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In eye surgery, the excimer laser is used to precisely ablate the eye for vision correction. While the actual process sounds rather brutal as described, the laser can be tightly controlled to target the desired area without causing residual damage. Before surgery, the laser is always carefully calibrated and checked to confirm that it is in working order, to reduce risks for the patient.

An excimer laser is used during a LASIK surgery on the eyes.
An excimer laser is used during a LASIK surgery on the eyes.

There are, of course, risks to surgery with an excimer laser. While the technology is improving all the time, things can still go wrong, or a surgeon may not be fully competent with the laser, which could put a patient at risk. For this reason, it is important to thoroughly read and go over the informed consent form signed before surgery, to understand the known risks associated with the laser. Patients may also want to consult several doctors to learn about the different technologies available, so that they can make an informed choice about which option may be best for their needs.

Patients who have undergone laser eye surgery may temporarily experience dry eyes.
Patients who have undergone laser eye surgery may temporarily experience dry eyes.

These lasers are also used in semiconductor manufacturing, materials processing, and materials marking. The same precision which is valuable in eye surgery is also important for finely detailed manufacturing tasks. The cool aspect of the laser is also important, as it means that materials can be manipulated with minimal risk of damage. Other types of lasers will heat the material while they work, which can lead to deformations which compromise the integrity of the finished product.

A patient may choose to consult with several doctors before undergoing eye surgery.
A patient may choose to consult with several doctors before undergoing eye surgery.
Eye procedures such as LASIK may use an excimer laser.
Eye procedures such as LASIK may use an excimer laser.

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