The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Advanced laser surgery tackles eye condition which can cause blindness

19 August 2014

The eye department at St James’s University Hospital is leading the way in fighting the debilitating eye condition, keratoconus, using advanced laser technology.

Keratoconus, which predominantly affects younger people, is a condition which weakens the shape of the cornea and can lead to blindness. For many patients in the past once the condition progresses to a certain point the only option may be a corneal transplant.

Yorkshire has a higher incidence of keratoconus than the national average.

Consultant ophthalmic surgeon, Mr James Ball, has pioneered the use of an advanced laser to create a tunnel into which a corneal ring is implanted to correct the shape of the cornea. The team at St James's began to use corneal rings in 2007, installing them manually, but the new technique with the laser allows much greater accuracy.

The procedure literally takes five minutes using just eyedrops as local anaesthetic and helps 97% of patients treated. The unit at Leeds Teaching Hospitals – one of only three nationally using this technique – now treats 200 patients a year.

Mr Ball commented: “Keratoconus typically causes progressive loss of vision to people in their twenties. Loss of vision at any age is devastating but is even more so at this stage of life when people are completing their studies, starting careers and starting families. The wider economic implications for these patients are huge.

"Before we began offering corneal ring implantation with the laser, the only treatment to improve vision in keratoconus was corneal transplantation. This is a major operation which then needs life-long follow-up.

"Since the introduction of this implantation at Leeds we have since a reduction in the number of corneal transplants which we are performing for keratoconus."