What is an Excimer Laser?
The word excimer is a combination of “excited” and “dimer.” A dimer is a compound formed by the combination of two identical molecules. The excimer laser combines Argon and Fluoride gases which, when excited, produce a cold ultraviolet beam of light. The excimer laser was first used in the early l980s by IBM to etch very precise lines on tiny semiconductor chips without damaging these delicate devices with heat.
Of the many wavelengths produced by this excited dimer process, one was found to have enormous potential for medical applications. At this wavelength it was possible to use the laser to remove tiny molecules of tissue without damaging underlying tissue.
The excimer laser causes no significant damage to underlying tissue because the beam of light produced is cold. Tissue is removed or “ablated” by the light beam a few molecular layers at a time, rather than burned or exploded. The excimer laser is so precise that it can remove tissue 0.25 microns at a time. (One micron = one thousandth of a millimeter; 50 microns is less than the thickness of a human hair. It takes more than 200 laser pulses to etch through the width of a human hair.)
In 1983, ophthalmologists determined that because of its precision and absence of damage to underlying tissue, the excimer laser could be used to reshape the cornea. Highly automated, the modern excimer laser is controlled by a computer specifically programmed by the surgeon for each patient’s correction to calculate the intensity and duration of the laser beam. The surgeon must design the treatment and direct the laser beam so that it reshapes the curvature of the cornea so light rays focus properly on the retina for crisp, clear vision. The surgeon’s skill and experience is also crucial in creating and manipulating the LASIK “flap.”
Well over one million people have had their vision improved successfully with an excimer laser in facilities around the world. Patient satisfaction with the procedure is very high: in one study more than 96% of all patients who had excimer laser eye surgery reported that they would enthusiastically recommend it to co-workers, friends and relatives.
At Washington Eye Physicians & Surgeons, we are extremely fortunate to have the most state-of-the-art LASIK devices to perform LASIK surgery. The precision of the excimer laser in combination with top-of-the-line diagnostic tools such as Contoura® Vision allows us to offer our patients the best visual outcomes possible.
Be sure to ask any of our three board-certified, expert LASIK surgeons at your free LASIK consultation, which is the best treatment for you. The Washington Eye Physicians & Surgeons are top-rated LASIK specialists servicing the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia areas; as such, they will be able to answer this question (and many more) for you.