Purpose: To report the incidence and risk factors for clinically significant epithelial ingrowth after laser in situ keratomileusis as well as the recurrence rate and visual outcomes after its treatment.
Methods: We defined clinically significant epithelial ingrowth as that which required surgical removal. From a cohort of 3, 786 eyes that underwent primary laser in situ keratomileusis from February 1996 to August 1998 and its derivative of 480 eyes that later underwent enhancement laser in situ keratomileusis by one surgeon (R.K.M.), we identified all eyes with clinically significant epithelial ingrowth.
Results: The incidence of significant epithelial ingrowth after primary treatment was 35 (0.92%) of 3,786 eyes. The incidence after enhancement treatment was eight (1.7%) of 480 eyes (p = NS). Fourteen of 43 eyes had a postoperative epithelial defect associated with subsequent development of epithelial ingrowth. Six of 43 eyes had loose epithelium intraoperatively, suggesting epithelial basement membrane dystrophy. Epithelial ingrowth was treated by lifting the flap, scraping the bed and the posterior surface of the flap, and replacing the flap without the use of caustic agents. In 42 of 43 eyes, the epithelial ingrowth under the flap was continuous with the surface epithelium. Clinically significant ingrowth recurred in 10 of 43 eyes after the initial surgical removal.
Conclusions: Clinically significant epithelial ingrowth is an infrequent complication of laser in situ keratomileusis. We hypothesize that epithelial ingrowth is secondary to postoperative invasion under the flap by surface epithelial cells rather than intraoperative implantation of epithelial cells. Treatment should consist of complete mechanical removal of epithelium from the posterior surface of the corneal flap and keratectomy bed and ensuring tight apposition of the flap with the bed.