Conductive Keratoplasty: A Dying Procedure?

Conductive keratoplasty, or CK, is an alternative to laser surgery for people who are over forty and have hyperopia, astigmatism, or presbyopia. Developed by Refractec, the process received FDA approval for reduction of hyperopia, and in March 2004 received the first FDA approval for vision technology to improve presbyopia.

Conductive keratoplasty is publicly known as NearVision CK, and is performed using the ViewPoint CK System.

Conductive keratoplasty uses heat from radio waves instead of a laser to reshape the cornea by shrinking collagen fibers, enabling the patient to read fine print at arms-length distances.

According to the company, this enables a person to read the newspaper, check the time, or play on the computer without the use of eyeglasses or contact lenses. CK is a minimally invasive procedure that takes about three minutes per eye. It is done in-office with topical anesthesia.

Conductive keratoplasty has been in decline in recent years, as many eye doctors have reservations about the effectiveness and value of the procedure (see “Risks and Drawbacks” below).

The Conductive Keratoplasty Process: How It Works

After anesthetic drops have taken effect, a handheld probe with a special tip that emits radio waves is used to administer eight to thirty-two uniform spot treatments around the periphery of the cornea.

A speculum is used to hold your eyelids open, which allows you to relax during the procedure without worrying about blinking. A dye is used to draw a pattern onto your cornea, in much the same way that an artist draws on your skin before you get a tattoo.

The dye marks the spots to be targeted with the radio waves. The heat from the radio waves then shrinks the collagen in the target spots and causes the cornea to steepen to a very high degree. Minimal regression is expected due to the uniform delivery of heat and the deep shrinkage of the collagen.

After the procedure, it is recommended that you:

  • Avoid getting water into your eyes for the first week following the procedure
  • Keep your eyes closed while bathing or showering
  • Avoid letting sweat get into your eyes for first week
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes for up to two weeks
  • Avoid eye make-up for one week

What Are The Benefits of Conductive Keratoplasty?

Here is a look at the benefits of CK surgery:

  • Painless procedure
  • Symptoms subside within twenty-four hours following procedure
  • Does not carry same risks as laser treatments
  • Does not require the use of a patch or badge afterwards
  • Safe; approved by the FDA
  • Minimally invasive
  • Procedure takes three minutes per eye to complete
  • Results last up to a few months
  • Do not need glasses or contact lenses to see at arms-length distances
  • Both eyes can be done during same visit
  • Great alternative to other types of eye surgery
  • Does not require cutting or removing tissue

What Are The Risks and Drawbacks of Conductive Keratoplasty?

As with all vision correction procedures, there are risks and drawbacks involved with CK surgery. These include:

  • Irreversible results
  • Not everyone is a good candidate
  • Vision may fluctuate for few weeks after procedure, limiting one’s activities
  • After procedure patients may experience:
    • Blurry vision for up to 24 hours
    • Feeling of foreign body in eye
    • Mild discomfort
  • Expensive; not covered by most vision insurance plans
  • Results are only temporary; may need procedure again

Many eye doctors have begun to have reservations about performing this surgery, and some will no longer do it. One of the ophthalmologists on Eyehealthweb’s editorial board says that, “CK is a failed surgery that never took off … I do not think it was a correct direction in refractive surgery (and it has [nearly] perished to non-existence).”

Another one of our doctors, an optometrist, says, “It’s been a miserable failure. The procedure creates what the company calls ‘blended vision,’ where it’s kind of good for far and kind of good for near. If a patient does anything more than casual reading, they won’t be pleased. The blended vision only lasts for a few months and then needs to be redone. One of our doctors did it but gave up on it after about a year. Too many complaints.”

Am I A Candidate for Conductive Keratoplasty?

People are best suited for conductive keratoplasty if they are over 40, have healthy eyes, have had stable vision for at least six months, and have hyperopia in the range from +0.75 to +3.00 diopters.

An example of a person who is not a good candidate would be one who has a pacemaker. Electronic equipment may interfere with the CK procedure and cause complications. There may be other reasons why you could be a good or bad candidate, so it is best to discuss this procedure with your eye doctor.

How Much Does CK Cost?

Unfortunately, most insurance plans do not cover this procedure because it is considered elective. On average, conductive keratoplasty costs about $2,300 per eye. But most people say it is worth every penny.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your eye care professional about the CK surgery:

  • Do you perform conductive keratoplasty procedures? If not, can you refer me to someone who does?
  • How do you feel about the CK procedure versus other types of eye surgeries?
  • How much does each eye cost?
  • Am I a good candidate for the CK surgery?
  • How often do you perform this procedure?
  • What other options do I have to treat my aging eyes?