The Wall Street Journal-Health
Reading the Fine Print
A variety of emerging treatments are tackling problems with close-up vision, but a cure remains elusive
By LAURIE MCGINLEY
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
February 14, 2005; Page R8
As she approached 40, Beverly Ingram realized she was losing her close-up vision. "I couldn't get my makeup on, I quit sewing because I couldn't thread the needle, and I wore my hair up in a bun because it was easier," says the Fullerton, Calif., businesswoman.
She stuck reading glasses on a chain around her neck, but her scarves and jewelry kept getting caught. "I really felt frumpy," she says. "It was a mess."
The problem was presbyopia, an age-related condition that affects 110 million Americans, usually beginning in their 40s, according to the research firm Market Scope LLC. Presbyopia, which means "aging eyes" in Greek, occurs when the crystalline lens of the eye hardens and is unable to change shape and focus on objects near at hand, according to the common theory. The symptoms are the same as farsightedness, but the cause is different: Farsightedness, which is often hereditary, occurs when the eyeball is too short or the cornea too flat.
Traditionally, people have dealt with presbyopia with reading glasses, bifocals or contact lenses. Now, convinced that aging baby boomers represent a billion-dollar market, companies are experimenting with an array of surgical presbyopia treatments, from replacement lenses to laser treatments to implants that stretch the white part of the eye. Ms. Ingram tried one of those new procedures in June 2003: conductive keratoplasty, or CK, which uses radio waves to reshape the cornea to improve close-up vision.
"I couldn't believe it," says Ms. Ingram, now 57. "I feel like I reinvented myself." She started playing cards with her friends again and donated her reading glasses to the Lion's Club.
There are big caveats for these new methods. "None of these things is a cure," says Terrence O'Brien, the director of refractive eye surgery and professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. "They are really methods to cope with presbyopia. We're still trying to understand the underlying mechanisms."