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LASER `SCULPTING’ OF EYES MAY REPLACE GLASSES FOR SOME

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Medical researchers are encouraged by an experimental "eye sculpting" treatment that may soon replace eyeglasses for millions of nearsighted people.

Called photorefractive kera-tectomy (PRK), the procedure is being tested by the Food and Drug Administration at a number of medical centers around the country. It may be available to the general public in two years.PRK uses a computer-directed laser to "sculpt" or reshape the cornea, the outer surface of the eye that helps focus light entering the eye. Each eye requires a 40-minute treatment that removes tiny layers of corneal tissue and slightly flattens the eye's curvature. The procedure is performed on one eye first, and later on the second.

Thus far, 65-70 percent of those who have undergone PRK have achieved 20-20 vision, and 93 percent have achieved 20-40 (which is good enough to drive a car without corrective eyeglasses).

To be eligible for the procedure, patients must be at least 20 years old. People over 40 should be aware that because eyes become less flexible as they age, the middle-aged and elderly may still have to wear glasses after PRK.