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The History of LASIK Eye Surgery

LASIK changed the landscape of vision improvement. With continued advancements, the history of LASIK eye surgery demonstrates how rapidly this surgery has progressed. 

doctor performing lasik

Before LASIK

The history of ophthalmology — the study of eyes — dates back to ancient times.

Theories on all kinds of eye conditions, from cataracts to ophthalmoplegia, were documented in ancient Egyptian texts. Cataract extractions were performed in ancient India. By the first millennium, Arabian scientist Ibn Al-Haytham proved that vision results from the eye’s absorption of incoming light.

Glasses were invented as early as the 13th century, and they began appearing in portraits shortly afterward. Flash forward to the early 19th century, and the first surgical “flap” was invented for cataract treatment by Austrian scientist Georg Beer.

The later 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of the first ophthalmoscopes and slit lamps, which allowed for further research into the inner eye and treatments for inner eye-related conditions. 

By 1950, scientists had successfully introduced gonioscopy, streak retinoscopy, intraocular lenses, and more into research and clinical settings. But there was still no long-term cure for blurry vision (nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism).

A Need for Better Vision Correction

By then, scientists understood that blurry vision results when incoming light is processed incorrectly onto the retina due to an irregularly shaped cornea. But glasses and contact lenses were the only vision-correcting tools available at the time.

The First Corneal-Reshaping Surgeries

Corneal reshaping procedures offered the opportunity to correct vision on a more permanent basis.

  • Svyatoslav Fyodorov’s surprise discovery: In the 1970s, a young boy in Russia got shards of glass stuck in his eyes after a fist fight. He visited Dr. Fyodorov, who removed the glass. Fyodorov was surprised to find that, after the corneal wounds healed, the boy’s vision improved.

    Fyodorov began experimenting on rabbit corneas to create strategic cuts that would result in 20/20 vision when healed. This led to the invention of radial keratotomy, which was the final most popular surgical option for blurry vision correction before the development of LASIK.
  • The first laser (non-LASIK) surgery: In 1988, the first vision correction surgery using a laser was performed on a human eye by Dr. Marguerite McDonald in Louisiana. Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) has many similarities to LASIK and influenced its development. PRK is still used today.

The Invention of LASIK

After more experimental years of trial and error with microkeratomes in laboratories around the world, ophthalmologist Gholam A. Peyman earned the first U.S. patent for his “flap” method of keratomileusis in 1989. Creating a corneal flap, or opening, allowed for localized ablation of corneal tissue.

This was essentially the first patent for LASIK.One year after the first patent, Dr. Ioannis Pallikaris performed the first LASIK procedure using a developed version of Jose Barraquer’s microkeratome.

FDA Approval

LASIK did not gain FDA approval for clinical use until 1999, after years of ongoing research and clinical trials.

Present-Day LASIK

Not long after its approval, LASIK became the most popular option for surgical vision correction in the U.S.

It’s estimated that at least 25 million LASIK procedures have been performed as of 2021.

It is widely regarded as a safe and effective treatment to correct blurry vision on a long-term basis.

Over 95 percent of people who get LASIK are happy with the results. 

Refining LASIK

There now exist many kinds of FDA-approved lasers for LASIK, including the newer, less invasive femtosecond laser. It uses infrared radiation to create the flap instead of microkeratomes. The femtosecond laser creates micrometer-thin cuts that take less time to heal.

Wavefront technologies are another advancement in the field. These are computerized methods used to create topographic maps of the patient’s cornea during the consultation process. This allows surgeons to have a much better and closer understanding of each individual cornea’s intricacies and irregularities.

The Future of LASIK

Research on LASIK continues to evolve in research and clinical settings around the world.

With advancements in the field, LASIK technology allows for high levels of customization, enabling better outcomes, low risk of complications, and faster healing times. It’s expected that the future of LASIK will allow for an even higher level of precision. This is an improvement on an already highly advanced procedure.

Because of its popularity, options regarding doctors, clinics, methods, and practices are vast. To ensure satisfactory outcomes, look carefully into potential providers’ track records, educational background, and other credentials. Ask plenty of questions about their LASIK expertise during consultations.

History of LASIK Eye Surgery FAQs

When was LASIK invented? Who invented LASIK?

LASIK took decades of research to come into fruition, so it cannot easily be attributed to just one person or discovery.

The first procedure was done with a microkeratome blade by Dr. Ioannis Pallikaris in 1990. It wasn’t until almost a decade later when LASIK was approved by the FDA for clinical use.

Why is LASIK so popular?

LASIK allows people to see clearly without the use of glasses or contact lenses. Its popularity is largely due to the freedom provided by this long-term improvement to vision.
Has LASIK improved over the years?

Yes, LASIK has improved greatly over the years. From the early microkeratomes to advanced lasers and continued refinement, today’s LASIK procedures look a lot different than they did 20 years ago. They offer a high level of precision and customization, offering incredibly high success rates.

Is LASIK dangerous?

No, LASIK is widely regarded as a common and safe surgery to correct vision. Controversy surrounding LASIK stems in part from its history — decades of experimentation, technical evolution, and methods, combined with other equally complicated surgical practices. 

References

  1. History of Ophthalmology. (May 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  2. Eye Anatomy (Hippocrates & Aristotle). (February 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  3. Gullstrand Slit Lamp. (April 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  4. Looking Back at Ophthalmology Imaging From the First Century of the American Journal of Ophthalmology: Photography and Ultrasonography. (August 2018). American Journal of Ophthalmology.

  5. Early Prints Detecting Eyeglasses. (November 2002). JAMA Ophthalmology.

  6. The Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests. (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Surgery and Medical Tests.

  7. The History of LASIK. (February 2012). Journal of Refractive Surgery.

  8. A Look at LASIK Past, Present and Future. (June 2009). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  9. The 25th Anniversary of Laser Vision Correction in the United States. (March 2021). Clinical Ophthalmology.

  10. What Is LASIK Eye Surgery? (August 2020). JAMA.

Last Updated April 6, 2022

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