More than 28-million people have had their vision corrected by laser eye surgery worldwide and many more are having the procedure done every day ­— reminding us we truly do live in a science fiction reality.

Laser vision correction is incredibly safe, relatively painless, and easy to recover from, with patients usually returning to work the very next day. But, of course, as technology improves there is always room for new innovations to benefit even the most successful treatments. When laser eye correction was first introduced, the primary procedure was photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), in which the outer layer of the cornea is gently removed and allowed to regenerate. PRK is a procedure that causes mild discomfort and requires at least one week off of work; likewise, it requires one week recovery before resuming driving a car.  This treatment was later supplemented, and largely superseded, by laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) in which a thin flap is created in the cornea and folded back to expose the cornea’s inner tissue, and then lowered back into place after the procedure. Today, these two options have been joined by a new procedure known as small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE), in which only a single tiny incision needs to be made in the surface of the eye in order to remove the dissected sections of corneal material.

Thus far, SMILE is only offered at a select few laser eye centres, but the benefits are becoming clear. “There are some residual issues with LASIK and PRK, the main one being that a small percentage of people have prolonged dry eye problems after these procedures,” explains Dr. Sheldon
Herzig of the Herzig Eye Institute, who has performed the most SMILE procedures in North America. “Otherwise, they are excellent procedures and we still continue to do them. Since introducing SMILE we’ve seen a steady increase in patients from out of province and country requesting the procedure. You just have to choose the right procedure for each patient.”

Factors that should indicate a preference for SMILE include having an existing history of dry eye, having particularly thin corneas, or having a more severe degree of myopia. SMILE is also preferable for people in professions that involve full contact or potential shock to the head or eyes, such as the military, police, or professional athletes.

“SMILE is a flap-less procedure where the laser always takes the same 30 seconds, regardless of how high the prescription. This adds a level of safety, comfort, and piece of mind for my patients.”