Holmium:YAG surgical lasers

Health Devices. 1995 Mar;24(3):92-122.


"Holmium:YAG (Ho:YAG)" is the shorthand name for a family of solid-state lasers that use the doping element holmium in a laser crystal (e.g., YAG [yttrium-aluminum-garnet]) and that emit energy at approximately 2.1 microns. This wavelength is relatively new to medicine and has been used in laser surgery for only about the last six years. Like the carbon dioxide (CO2) laser when it was first used clinically, the Ho:YAG laser is poised for rapid and wide-spread use. Ho:YAG lasers, like CO2 lasers, offer precise cutting with minimal damage to adjacent tissue; however, unlike CO2 lasers, they also offer fiberoptic delivery (which is ideal for endoscopic use) and the ability to treat tissue in a liquid-filled environment (e.g., saline, blood). The initial specialty for which the Ho:YAG laser was used was arthroscopic surgery, especially diskectomy. Today, it is effectively used in many surgical specialties, including general surgery, urology, laparoscopy, neurosurgery, lithotripsy, angioplasty, orthopedic surgery (which includes procedures such as meniscectomy, bone sculpting [may also be performed in plastic surgery], and some experimental surgery, such as cartilage shrinking to tighten loose joints), and dentistry. Because of its broad range of potential applications, it has been called the "Swiss Army Knife" of lasers. High-powered Ho:YAG lasers, which enable surgeons to work more quickly and cut more smoothly, have been made available only within the last three years (units offering > 20 W) to 18 months (units offering > 60 W). Because of this rapid increase, high-powered units are still relatively expensive, and it is not yet clear whether maximum power outputs will continue to increase or whether the cost of higher-power units will begin to come down. Although low-power and high-power Ho:YAG lasers can be used for the same procedures, their different ranges of possible clinical techniques make them better suited to different applications: low-power units are preferable for small-joint and some head-and-neck surgeries or for office use, and high-power units are more suitable for use in major surgery, such as gastrointestinal surgery or surgery in large joints. This evaluation includes two units at both ends of the Ho:YAG power spectrum--one 10 W and one 60 W--and thus provides a guide to evaluating other Ho:YAG lasers that are currently available or that will be entering the market.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Device Approval
  • Equipment Safety
  • Ergonomics
  • Eye Protective Devices
  • Holmium
  • Humans
  • Laser Therapy / adverse effects
  • Laser Therapy / instrumentation*
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Holmium