RACINE COUNTY — Ever see those annoying, distracting spots or squiggly lines passing before your field of vision? Well, an eye doctor in Racine has a laser for that.
“Floaters are not just a nuisance. They affect patients’ quality of life. (For) some patients they’re so bothersome it affects what they’re able to do,” said ophthalmologist Paul Singh, who works at The Eye Centers of Racine and Kenosha.
Floaters aren’t indicative of having a disease, said Singh. They are clumps of collagen fibers floating around the eye. There is a negative charge around these fibers, allowing them to remain apart with fluid in between, he explained. But people lose that negative charge as we age, so those fibers tend to clump together, he said. That causes a shadow on the retina by blocking light from reaching the back of the eye, he said.
Singh has performed almost 400 procedures — sometimes multiple times on the same patients — in which he uses what’s called a coaxial illumination laser to zap the floaters. This new procedure is different than the standard laser in use, he said, because this new laser has a narrower beam that can be more finely concentrated.
“Most ophthalmologists have a Yag laser. This system has a different kind of laser,” he said. “It does vaporize” the floaters. “There’s no laser that actually removes it from the eye. It vaporizes and breaks it apart.”
Singh said he is one of the few doctors in the country performing this procedure. And while 30 percent to 40 percent of people will see floaters go away in time, others will not.
An alternative to the laser for some patients, Singh said, is a surgery called a vitrectomy. But with this, “there is a risk of causing a cataract, causing glaucoma. There is more risk involved (than using the laser). … This (laser) is such a high benefit and such a low risk.”
How safe is it?
There aren’t many studies regarding the safety of this laser procedure, Singh said, adding that in his experience, it can increase pressure in the eye for certain patients. So he said he’s planning to publish his own study about the safety rate for his patients, among which three experienced issues.
Out of the almost 400 procedures performed, two patients experienced increased pressure in their eyes, he said. One needed a tube installed to lessen the pressure, while the second patient’s pressure improved by using eye drops.
“There’s one patient where I hit the lens and a cataract formed,” he explained. “No retinal detachment, holes or tears. No lost vision. For me, now, I don’t do it on patients where it’s so close to the lens.”
Dayle Kern, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, said the organization doesn’t maintain statistics on how many ophthalmologists currently are performing this procedure.
“Currently, the academy does not recommend laser treatments or pharmocotherapies for floaters, as these do not appear to have sufficient evidence to support their use,” according to the academy.
But a Racine woman raves about how much better her eyesight — and quality of life — have been since undergoing the procedures.
Helen Bensene, a retired Wheaton Franciscan buyer, underwent the procedure for both eyes recently, with her right eye treated Sept. 10 and her left eye treated Sept. 24. She said that was the second time Singh performed the procedures on her eyes, the first round occurring earlier in 2014.
“I’m telling you, I have never been happier,” she said.
One patient’s experience
Bensene, who works part time as accounting manager for Real Racine, said she had been seeing floaters that left her feeling frustrated and irritated, and impaired her vision. They could be in the form of black dots, wavy lines or a dark film, she said.
“If I can’t see a number clearly … and there’s a black spot constantly shadowing a number … it can throw off that I’m doing. It was extremely frustrating,” she said. “Without me realizing it, it would make me crabby — like a minor headache.”
When Singh talked with her about the procedure, she jumped at it.
“The possibility of getting rid of these floaters was a no-brainer and I realized insurance would cover it and I said ‘go for it,’ ” Bensene said.
The procedure lasted less than 10 minutes, she estimated. Her eyes were dilated and a nurse put numbing drops into her eye. Singh placed a lens in her eye to hold her eyelids open, preventing her from blinking.
“You don’t even feel it,” she said, although “you’re aware that it’s there. (Then) you hear the clicking of the laser and see a red light. He says, ‘OK, I got ‘em all,’ they pop out the lens” and it’s dark because of the time spent with the light shining in her eye, she explained. “That darkness starts to go away by the time you hit the door.”
Patients need to wear sunglasses and someone must drive them home, she said, but about 30 minutes after the procedure, “that sensation that ‘something’s been done’ is gone.”
Singh said there are no injections, no post-operative drops needed and patients may drive later that night.
“It was wonderful to not see that black spot anymore,” Bensene said. “It’s made a world of difference for me — night and day.”
Singh said “what shocked me was the impact on patients’ daily functioning. One of my goals is to make this a standard of care for everbody in the nation within five years.”
Bensene said she’s referred friends for the procedure, and talked with two of Singh’s other patients, who were worried.
“To me, this is a quality of life. It’s this ability to see. I want that forever,” Bensene said. “It’s so easy. No recovery time. No pain. None. At all.”