Lasers and the Spectacular Transformation of Medicine

The Laser, an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, has become ubiquitous in the medical fields of ophthalmology and dermatology since the first working laser was built in 1960. Its usefulness in other medical streams such as oncology and diagnostics is on the rise and the future of laser based treatments in medicine and surgery looks very exciting indeed.

When one talks about lasers in medicine, the first thought that comes to many people’s minds is LASIK or Laser Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis. The surgery involves making an incision in the cornea to create a thin flap on the eye, raising the flap and cutting the tissue beneath the cornea to correct the flaw in the vision. Finally, the flap is repositioned. LASIK and photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), another procedure that uses a laser, are remarkably advanced when compared with radial keratotomy, an older surgical treatment that corrected refractive errors of vision using a diamond knife.

Other uses of lasers in ophthalmology include the reattachment of detached retinas and optical coherence tomography (OCT). The latter is an imaging technique that can produce three dimensional images with a very high resolution. The best part is that these images are produced in real time. An example of the use of OCT is to develop cross-sectional images of the cornea that help ophthalmologists diagnose retinal disease and glaucoma more accurately. In other medical fields, the use of OCT is increasing and it has incredible potential to have a major impact on medicine and surgery in the future.

Lasers are being used in different cosmetic procedures and the scope for new and innovative methods of tackling skin related problems is huge. Even though the consumer might be a bit sceptical about a laser treatment for the face , procedures such as laser resurfacing are increasing in popularity. The technique involved in laser resurfacing involves a controlled burning of the skin, with the laser resulting in the vaporizing of superficial layers of facial skin. Owing to this procedure, wrinkles, lines, acne scars and even precancerous growths are removed. The term “Laser Facial” is used to describe a laser based procedure that provides benefits similar to a regular facial.

Based on the many wonderful applications of lasers in medicine in the last fifty years, we can be sure to witness a spectacular transformation in medicine and surgery owing to new laser procedures.