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Toss the reading glasses?

Procedure offers a safe way to correct close vision without surgery or lasers.

March 29, 2004|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

Americans who view reading glasses as a sign of being over the hill may now be able to keep their youthful self-image a while longer.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first corrective eye procedure for presbyopia, a condition that occurs as the eyes' lenses age and lose flexibility, making it harder to see close up. The procedure, known as conductive keratoplasty, does not involve lasers or surgery. "By far, the best candidates are over age 45, have excellent distance vision and are frustrated with reading glasses," says Dr. Robert K. Maloney, a Los Angeles ophthalmologist who participated in studies on conductive keratoplasty. "The people who aren't good candidates are over 45 but have imperfect distance vision. That is most people over 45."

Conductive keratoplasty, which was first approved in 2002 for treating age-related farsightedness, or hyperopia, uses a hair-thin probe that releases radio frequency energy. When applied to the cornea in a circular pattern, the radio waves shrink small areas of collagen to constrict the cornea and increase its curvature. This brings vision back into focus.

Ophthalmologists who studied the procedure reported in studies submitted to the FDA that 98% of patients could see newspaper-size print after treatment. The procedure takes just a few minutes and can be performed in an ophthalmologist's office with eyedrop anesthesia. Patients usually feel some discomfort for a few days, according to clinical trials.

There were no reports of serious complications in clinical trials.

"The advantage of conductive keratoplasty is that it doesn't involve cutting the eye or removing tissue," he says.

Correction with conductive keratoplasty isn't considered permanent, however. Most people need to have the procedure repeated after several years because the eye continues to age.

Developed by Refractec Inc. of Irvine, conductive keratoplasty has been performed on more than 30,000 people since the technology was approved for hyperopia.

Some doctors already have offered the procedure for presbyopia. Now, with FDA approval, more ophthalmologists are expected to offer it for both the original and new uses, and doctors will be able to advertise the presbyopia treatment. The procedure costs about $1,500 per eye.

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