Purpose: The authors establish, for the first time, observer-independent quantification of stromal thinning, epithelial thickness, and corneal haze after excimer laser photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) using a unique, new form of in vivo confocal microscopy.
Methods: Rapid, continuous z-scans of high-resolution confocal images, termed confocal microscopy through focusing (CMTF), were performed in the central corneal area of 17 patients before and 1 month after PRK for low- to moderate-grade myopia (-2.88-9.13 diopters [D]). Corneal, epithelial, and stromal thickness measurements and an objective haze estimate were obtained from each CMTF scan by digital image analysis.
Results: Epithelial thickness averaged 51 +/- 4 microns before and 45 +/- 10 microns 1 month post-PRK (P < 0.005), whereas stromal thinning ranged from 20 to 154 microns, representing a direct estimate of the actual photoablation depth. Corneal thickness averaged 560 +/- 36 microns before PRK and 462 +/- 52 microns at 1 month. The change in corneal thickness correlated closely with the change in spherical equivalent refraction (r = 0.94, P < 0.0001); linear regression analysis revealed a value of 14.3 microns corneal thinning per diopter of correction. A significant correlation was found between the objective CMTF haze estimate and a clinical haze grading obtained by slit-lamp examination (r = 0.73, P < 0.001).
Conclusions: Confocal microscopy through focusing is a new, powerful in vivo tool that enables quantitative, unbiased evaluation of PRK procedures over time by providing epithelial and stromal thickness analysis, photoablation depth assessment, and unbiased haze measurement. The method is uniquely valuable in the pre- and postoperative assessment of PRK patients and for determining the optimal treatment strategy, especially in assessing refractive and visual outcomes in individual cases.