Lasers in health: everywhere a big success
A ‘laser’ (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) beam consists of an “amplified” single wavelength of usually visible light. This laser beam can be produced as a low power focused beam suitable for a lecture’s harmless pointer, or it can be used as a powerful beam intense enough to cut through hard steel or diamond. This same laser power can be designed for health applications.
Today, laser can provide delivery of focused light energy with remarkable precision to almost anywhere on the body – even within the body. Besides being able to focus power with physical precision for detailed surgical work, lasers of different wavelengths can be selected to target specific cells for treatment. These properties have led to the use of lasers in cosmetic surgery, treatment of varicose veins, eye surgery and more.
Cosmetics: Blemish Removal and Resurfacing
Probably, the most prominent uses of lasers are their applications in the removal of birthmarks, acne, scarring, tattoos and other blemishes on the skin. The uniqueness of lasers for cosmetic treatment is their target to a specific coloration or tissue type while leaving adjacent skin unaffected. In essence, laser light power is absorbed by targeted cells leading to them seal up or burst as they heat to high temperature for a fraction of a second.
Treatment with green, yellow or orange wavelength lasers can remove the coloration of wine-colored birthmarks caused by the oxyhemoglobin at their surface vessels. Treatment is delivered as light pulses scanned over the mark. A red light targets brown pigmentation while light at higher wavelengths (infrared) targets the water in the cells to teat scarring from acne.
Laser resurfacing removes skin layer-by-layer and is sometimes called laser peeling, laser vaporization and lasabrasion. Resurfacing is used to reduce the effect of moderately deep lines or wrinkles around the eyes and mouth and on the forehead, hands, neck and chest.
Applied first as a cosmetic procedure, laser beams can treat tiny varicose or ‘spider’ veins that often appear in facial areas from medical conditions or with increasing age. However, newer technology has been developed to treat the often-painful development of large varicose veins in the legs. In this procedure – known as endovenous laser treatment – a laser optic fiber is passed through a catheter into the vein to produce scar tissue and close the vein.
Glaucoma is a common complication in diabetes that is caused by a build up of pressure by fluids in the eye. Fortunately, it is now often treatable with laser “iridotomy.” In laser iridotomy, a laser is used to create an incision along the outer edge of the iris that allows the built-up fluid (aqueous humor) in the front chamber of the eye to flow to the chamber behind the iris.
Additionally, lasers are used to surgically reshape the cornea of the eye to correct near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism and are used in removal of cataracts.
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