Purpose: This study aimed to look at morphological changes induced by myopic laser in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) in the human cornea using the confocal microscope and to investigate the link between these changes and alterations to corneal sensitivity.
Methods: An in vivo slit-scanning real-time confocal microscope (Tomey ConfoScan P4, Erlangen, Germany) fitted with an Achroplan 40x/0.75 NA immersion objective and a Cochet-Bonnet esthesiometer were used to examine the morphology and sensitivity of the central corneas of six subjects (12 eyes) at an initial visit (before surgery), and at 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months after LASIK for myopia.
Results: Keratocyte density anterior to the flap interface showed differences between visits (p < 0.0001) and was found to be lower than at the initial visit at 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months. Microfolds were noted at the level of the anterior limiting membrane in 11 of 12 eyes after surgery at all visits. Highly reflective flap interface particles were seen in all eyes at all visits after surgery. The subepithelial nerve fiber layer was clearly visible before surgery but could not be imaged in any of the eyes after surgery. Short, unconnected nerve fibers were observed 3 months after surgery; these appeared to form anastomosing interconnections after 6 months. Postsurgical corneal sensitivity was reduced during the first 3 months and recovered to presurgical levels after 6 months.
Conclusion: LASIK showed a decrease in anterior keratocyte density and microfolds in the anterior limiting membrane, and reflective particles were observed at the flap interface. Corneal sensitivity was depressed during the first 6 months after LASIK surgery; this time course paralleled the appearance of nerve regeneration during this period. Confocal microscopy is capable of providing interesting new insights into the effects of refractive surgery on corneal morphology.