Wake up and see the coffee with orthokeratology

IT started with an SMS from my son, who’d travelled a vast distance past sea and city to find a centre that would accept a booking for his motorcycle-driving test before the turn of the decade.

“Failed the eye test,” he texted, comforting me just a little with his accurate spelling and non-use of the exclamation mark. (That’s my boy!)

It was inevitable, really. His father and I have the eyesight of a mole. Not moles. Just one mole. We’re that short-sighted.

I took him to the optician: “Your son has the eyesight of a mole,” he said.

“Just one?” I asked, miserably.

“Yes,” said the optician. “Just the right eye. The vision in his left eye is almost perfect.”

That should have been good news. My husband and I both have moleful vision in both eyes. But, said the optician, when one eye is doing such marvellous work and the other has essentially gone on strike, corrective therapy (his phrase, not mine) with standard specs and contact lenses can be tricky.

“What about laser surgery?” I asked, ignoring the little yelp emanating from my son.

“Too young,” said the specialist. “But he is a good candidate for orthokeratology.”

Orthokeratology. It sounds like technology that was invented yesterday. But in fact, it’s been around so long – about 50 years – it even has a nickname, Ortho-K. It’s a non-surgical procedure (cue sigh of relief from the teenager), which involves wearing a special lens overnight to reshape the cornea of the eye and correct focussing faults. Instead of wearing a brace to straighten your teeth, you wear one to flatten your eye. Some sources even refer to it as “a retainer”.

Although the practice is not new – it was derived perhaps from ancient China, where people suffering from myopia allegedly slept with little bags of sand on their eyes – the material used for Ortho-K lenses these days is.

In the 1960s, rigid or hard contact lenses made from PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate), sometimes called acrylic glass, were used. Every patient required a series of lenses, with each lens flattening the cornea a little bit until the desired results were achieved. It took months, even years.

These days, with the invention of space-age polymers, computer-aided lathes and various other technological advances in Ortho-K, it’s possible to reduce of myopia in a matter of days.

Once he’d overcome the horror of placing a foreign object on his naked eyeball and had undertaken a few getting-it-in and getting-it-out sessions with the optician, my son brought his Ortho-K lens home.

On the third morning thereafter, I heard a happy bellow from his bedroom. He stood at the window, a hand over his left eye, looking out across the valley through the other, “There are chimneys on those houses,” he said, turning to smile at me.

It ended with an SMS from my son, who last week travelled a vast distance past sea and city to find a centre that would accept a booking for his motorcycle-driving test before the turn of the decade.

“Passed the eye test!” he texted. I didn’t mind the exclamation mark.

(This was first published in Business Day in 2012 as my Wednesday technology column on the Business Life page.)

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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