Health

Cosmetic eye surgery promises to get the red out

Thursday, March 18, 2010

You've heard of teeth whitening. Now a surgical procedure is promising to whiten your eyes instead. The procedure itself is not new, but its use in cosmetic surgery is creating some controversy.

It is called I-Brite, and the opthalmologist who developed it describes it as a pain-free, stitch-free procedure that takes just 15 minutes. However, some eye surgeons are voicing concern.

As a lawyer, Steven Smith works long hours and reads a lot of fine print, but he blames years of sun exposure for making his eyes red.

"The byproduct of all the years of sport fishing very foolishly without sunglasses," he says.

It irritates him when people tell him how tired he looks. So when his ophthalmologist, Brian Boxer-Wachler, described a new eye-whitening procedure called I-Brite, Smith decided to give it a try.

"The first step is I mark the area that needs to be removed that has the blood vessels or the yellow or the brown pigmented spots," says Boxer-Wachler. "The second step is I delicately remove that membrane that contains all the blood vessels and the yellowing or the pigment, and that reveals the underlying white of the eyes which we all had when we were young kids."

I-Brite is basically a variation on a procedure known as conjuctival plasty that has been around for decades. It removes growths from the whites of the eye, even the cornea. But Boxer-Wachler is taking this procedure in a new direction.

Taking away healthy, normal eye tissue purely for cosmetic reasons concerns some eye surgeons. They say that tissue is in your eyes for a reason.

"The blood vessels really need to be there," says opthamologist Alan Berg. "They supply oxygen to the underlying surfaces of the eye."

Berg says the conjunctiva helps protect and lubricate the eye and removing it could increase the possibility of dry eyes and cause scarring. There is also a possible side effect of infection. Berg says eye drops may be a better alternative for red eyes.

"To have this particular procedure where you have normal tissue... where you have a little bit of redness, I think it's a marked overkill," says Berg. "It would be, I guess, taking a sledgehammer to a flea."

Boxer-Wachler says he expects the procedure to be long-lasting. The surgery itself takes only about 30 minutes and patients can return to work the next day.

I-Brite costs between $3,000 and $5,000 per eye, and like most cosmetic procedures it is not covered by insurance.

"We've been completely surprised on how much interest there is in this procedure because it's a real problem out there, that nobody had any idea about because there was never a treatment for it until now," says Boxer-Wachler.

Even though the procedure is new, Boxer-Wachler says he expects the results to be long-lasting. Since the procedure is new as a cosmetic surgery, there is no data yet on how long the whitening effect will actually last.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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