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What is Radial Keratotomy?

Radial Keratotomy (RK) is a surgical procedure once popular for correcting nearsightedness. It involves precise incisions in the cornea, resembling spokes on a wheel, to reshape the eye's surface and improve vision. Though largely replaced by LASIK, RK's legacy in eye care is significant. Wondering how these techniques compare? Join us as we explore the evolution of vision correction.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Radial keratotomy, also known as RK, is a surgical procedure performed on the eye to correct myopia. This surgery is used to correct cases of mild to moderate nearsightedness. RK, like any surgery, does come with some risks which should be weighed before the procedure to make sure that it is the best choice for the patient. A surgeon can discuss the risks and benefits of an individual case with the patient to help the patient reach an informed decision.

In a radial keratotomy procedure, the patient is given a local anesthetic and the surgeon makes a series of radial cuts around the cornea, extending from the middle of the cornea to the edges. The cuts are quite deep as a general rule. During the healing process, the cuts promote bulging along the edges of the cornea, which flattens the center, correcting the patient's vision. Radial keratotomy is an outpatient procedure, although patients cannot drive immediately afterwards and will need to make transportation arrangements.

Radial keratotomy can eliminate the need for glasses.
Radial keratotomy can eliminate the need for glasses.

Typically, the surgery is performed on only one eye at a time. The other eye is corrected with a contact lens while the eye which underwent surgery is allowed to heal. For several days, the patient can experience pain and blurred vision. Instability in the eye can persist for up to a year, and it is not advisable to drive until vision has fully stabilized in the involved eye. During follow up appointments, the surgeon can assess how well the correction worked, and make recommendations for surgery on the other eye. It is important to note that the outcome of RK surgery in one eye does not predict the outcome in the other.

A patient may temporarily experience blurred vision following a radial keratotomy.
A patient may temporarily experience blurred vision following a radial keratotomy.

Correction with radial keratotomy is not guaranteed. The eye may be overcorrected, in which case the patient will be farsighted, or undercorrected, leading to the persistence of myopia. Sometimes it is necessary to wear corrective lenses after RK surgery to address this issue. Other complications of radial keratotomy can include infection, rupture, perforation, and persistent vision problems including halos, starbursts, and glare.

Myopia may be caused by a person's eyeball stretching too long from front to back, or from the cornea being more curved than normal.
Myopia may be caused by a person's eyeball stretching too long from front to back, or from the cornea being more curved than normal.

One interesting side effect of radial keratotomy was discovered entirely by accident when a climber ascending Mount Everest began to experience vision problems: Apparently, at high altitudes, vision problems can occur in patients who have undergone this procedure. Radial keratotomy is only one among several surgical options available to address nearsightedness, and patients can discuss their choices with a surgeon to learn more about what may be best for their situation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Radial keratotomy can eliminate the need for glasses.
      By: auremar
      Radial keratotomy can eliminate the need for glasses.
    • A patient may temporarily experience blurred vision following a radial keratotomy.
      By: Africa Studio
      A patient may temporarily experience blurred vision following a radial keratotomy.
    • Myopia may be caused by a person's eyeball stretching too long from front to back, or from the cornea being more curved than normal.
      By: blueringmedia
      Myopia may be caused by a person's eyeball stretching too long from front to back, or from the cornea being more curved than normal.
    • Radial keratotomy is not a guaranteed solution for myopia correction.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      Radial keratotomy is not a guaranteed solution for myopia correction.