What is the Process of Using a Laser for Eye Surgery?

It is possible that you may be familiar with individuals who wear glasses or contacts. Corrective lenses can assist people with vision issues in improving their sight. However, certain eye conditions, such as cataracts, cannot be corrected solely with lenses.

A cataract is an imperfection on the lens of the eye. It causes the lens to enlarge, obstructing the entry of light into the eye. If left untreated, a cloudy white substance can form on the lens. Cataracts cause blurry vision and can eventually lead to blindness.

In the past, many individuals lost their vision due to cataracts. Research in ophthalmology, the study of the eye, has led to the development of new treatments. One of these treatments is laser eye surgery.

Dr. Patricia E. Bath invented a laser device for removing cataracts, known as the Laserphaco Probe. The part of the tool that enters the eye is very small, about the size of a sharp pencil tip. The doctor inserts the probe into the eye and uses a laser to vaporize the cataract. Afterward, the diseased lens is removed and a tiny artificial lens is inserted. Bath’s Laserphaco Probe is utilized by doctors for all of these steps!

Patricia Bath grew up in New York and had a particular interest in biology during high school, receiving numerous science awards. She also participated in a summer program in biomedical science at Yeshiva University and completed high school in just two and a half years!

After high school, Bath studied chemistry at Hunter College in New York. She then relocated to Washington, D.C., where she earned her medical degree from Howard University. Bath returned to New York to pursue training as an eye doctor, completing an internship at Harlem Hospital and studying at Columbia University.

While working, Bath observed that the eye clinic at Harlem Hospital had more blind patients compared to Columbia’s eye clinic. She also noticed that a higher percentage of blind patients were Black. Conducting a research study at both hospitals, Bath discovered that Black individuals were twice as likely to develop blindness as White individuals. She concluded that Black people had limited access to eye care, resulting in higher rates of blindness.

In 1976, Bath wrote a paper proposing a solution to this problem, which she called “Community Ophthalmology.” This innovative medical field aimed to improve access to eye care. Trained volunteers would examine people’s eyes in community settings, such as schools, childcare centers, and programs for senior citizens. These volunteers would identify serious eye conditions. Today, Community Ophthalmology is implemented worldwide to ensure that people can access proper eye care.

Throughout her career, Dr. Bath also worked as a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Charles Drew University. She became the first female professor in ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. It was during her time at UCLA that Bath encountered the racism and sexism that she discusses in the Wonder video.

In 1988, Bath became the first Black female doctor to receive a U.S. patent for a medical invention. She holds four patents for the Laserphaco Probe and has patents in other countries, including Japan and Canada. Today, eye doctors worldwide utilize the Laserphaco Probe to treat cataract disease.

Dr. Patricia E. Bath was honored by being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2022. Her invention provided a solution for blind individuals to regain their sight. She utilized her innovative ideas to develop novel methods of patient care.

What fresh ideas do you possess? How can you utilize them to address issues that you observe in the world?

Give it a Try

Dr. Patricia Bath serves as an inspiration to all of us! Engage in the following activities to expand your knowledge and exploration beyond today’s Wonder.

  • It is crucial to take proper care of your eyes! Learn how to do so from the National Eye Institute, including first aid tips, advice for maintaining healthy vision, and the importance of protective eyewear. Create a poster to disseminate important information about vision care to others. Consider strategic locations for hanging it, where others can readily access the information.
  • Patricia Bath was an inventor and biomedical engineer. Can you design a new tool to assist surgeons? Embark on this STEM challenge with your family. Discuss your designs and contemplate ways to improve them.
  • In the A-Z Career Lab, “O” stands for ophthalmologists. Watch the video interview with Dr. Patrick Spencer. Based on the video and this Wonder, outline three reasons why someone might aspire to become an ophthalmologist. Summarize them in a brief paragraph.

Wonder Sources

  • https://www.britannica.com/dictionary (accessed 30 Mar., 2023)
  • https://kids.kiddle.co/Cataract (accessed 6 Mar., 2023)
  • https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_26.html (accessed 6 Mar., 2023)
  • https://www.invent.org/inductees/patricia-bath (accessed 6 Mar., 2023)
  • https://lemelson.mit.edu/resources/patricia-bath (accessed 6 Mar., 2023)
  • https://kids.britannica.com/kids/article/Patricia-Bath/633097 (accessed 7 Mar., 2023)


1. How does laser eye surgery work?

Laser eye surgery, also known as LASIK (Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis), is a procedure that corrects vision problems by reshaping the cornea. During the surgery, a laser is used to create a thin flap on the cornea. The surgeon then removes a small amount of tissue from the underlying corneal layer, which corrects the vision. The flap is then repositioned, and it adheres naturally without the need for stitches.

2. Is laser eye surgery painful?

No, laser eye surgery is not usually painful. Before the procedure, the surgeon will administer numbing eye drops to ensure that you do not feel any discomfort. During the surgery, you may experience some pressure or a mild sensation, but it should not be painful. After the surgery, you may experience some minor discomfort or dryness, but this can be managed with prescribed eye drops.

3. How long does the laser eye surgery procedure take?

The actual laser eye surgery procedure typically takes around 10-15 minutes per eye. However, you should expect to spend a total of 2-3 hours at the clinic, including pre-operative preparations and post-operative care instructions.

4. What is the recovery time after laser eye surgery?

The recovery time after laser eye surgery varies from person to person. Most patients experience improved vision within 24 hours after the procedure. However, it may take a few days or weeks for your vision to stabilize completely. It is important to follow your surgeon’s post-operative instructions, which may include avoiding strenuous activities and wearing protective eyewear during the healing period.

5. Are there any risks or complications associated with laser eye surgery?

While laser eye surgery is generally safe and effective, like any surgical procedure, there are risks involved. Some potential risks and complications include dry eyes, glare or halos around lights, infection, overcorrection or undercorrection of vision, and the need for additional procedures. However, these risks are relatively rare, and most people achieve improved vision without complications.

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