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The Difference between Corneal Crosslinking and Laser Eye Surgery

A recent Courier Mail article has highlighted the potential risks of a new treatment for keratoconus called corneal crosslinking, or CXL. This is a procedure developed 10 years ago, which has a very high success rate (98%) of halting the progression of keratoconus. Keratoconus is a relatively common disease causing progressive weakness in the corneas of approximately 1 in 1000 people. CXL works by inducing a chemical reaction in the cornea which results in toughening and therefore stops or slows further weakness developing. CXL is generally very safe. The risk of complications is less than 1%, especially when performed following tested protocols and with proven medications and devices.

CXL is not laser surgery. The ultraviolet light used in CXL does not have the properties of a laser and the method of action is completely different. Laser eye surgery includes LASIK for treating refractive error (glasses), retinal laser to treat diseases such as diabetic damage to the retina and laser capsulotomy used to treat scarring developing after cataract surgery. Lasers work by ablating or coagulating tissue directly, allowing highly precise surgery to be performed. Medical lasers used in these procedures are subject to very stringent testing requirements.

All medical procedures carry some risk of complications, but if performed by an experienced surgeon with properly tested equipment and proven techniques the risks of CXL and laser eye surgery are very low.

Dr Peter Beckingsale MBBS FRANZCO
Corneal and Refractive Surgeon
Consultant Ophthalmologist

Senior Clinical Lecturer, University of Queensland

Assistant Medical Director, Queensland Eye Bank

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