Procedure improves vision while you sleep

Called Ortho-K, the procedure corrects nearsightedness or myopia while you sleep so that during the
Max Su, an 11-year-old Ortho-K patient, meets with Dr. Alison A. Halpin at Family Vision Care Center in Saratoga Springs. (photo provided)
Max Su, an 11-year-old Ortho-K patient, meets with Dr. Alison A. Halpin at Family Vision Care Center in Saratoga Springs. (photo provided)

When Max Su went to a two-week camp in New Hampshire this summer, he brought a special pair of contact lenses with him.

The 11-year-old Saratoga Springs boy slipped the lenses into his eyes every night at camp, and every morning, he took them out.

Called Ortho-K, the procedure corrects nearsightedness or myopia while you sleep so that during the day you don’t have to wear glasses or contact lenses to correct your vision.

Approved by the FDA in 2002, Ortho-K lenses are worn by people in 17 countries. They are catching on in the United States as nearsightedness, according to the American Optometric Association, is rapidly increasing among children and young adults.

“Ortho K does work,” says Sean (Xiao) Su, Max’s father.

“You can see a difference, a big difference. He puts Ortho-K on at night and the next day, his vision is much clearer.”

Max, who has been using Ortho-K since March, is a patient at Family Vision Care Center in Saratoga Springs, one of the only practices in the Capital Region with a doctor who is also a certified orthokeratologist.

Family Vision has been providing Ortho-K for more than a year.

“It’s a new concept to a lot of people,” says Dr. Alison A. Halpin, Family Vision’s optometrist and orthokeratologist.

“It is a corneal re-shaping procedure, which is a non-surgical alternative to Lasik. An added bonus to orthokeratology is that it’s been shown to slow the progression of nearsightedness. It’s FDA-approved for all ages, but I typically recommend starting it around age eight.”

“We could correct adults as well, but our first demographic is really kids,” says Susan E. Halstead, optician and owner of Family Vision.

“Not only are we correcting them so they are seeing without glasses or contacts all day, we are halting the progression of their myopia and reducing their risk of retinal detachments, glaucoma and cataracts.”

At Family Vision, parents are introduced to Ortho-K when they bring their child in for their first pair of glasses in first to third grade.

“We catch it early when they are in the beginning stages, when orthokeratology is most likely to work effectively,” says Halpin.

If parents want to have a consultation, the child’s eyes are measured with a corneal topographer that maps the eye, and the information appears as digital images on a computer screen.

If the child is a suitable candidate, Halpin shows them how to insert the lenses, which look like old-fashioned hard contact lenses but are made of oxygen-permeable plastics.

“The procedure takes some time to take effect, and when it takes effect in shaping the cornea, it essentially will retain its shape with a lens that worn more like a retainer,” says Halpin.

“It varies from child to child, but a lot of times, we’ll see a kid after the first night of wearing the lens and then a week after wearing the lens, and then if all is going well, after a month, and then three months and then six months. And from there, from then on out, we’ll do visits every six months.”

To slow or arrest myopia, the child must wear the lenses indefinitely, although once the cornea is reshaped, he or she can skip one or two nights without a change in vision.

“It’s completely reversible, which is why it’s so safe,” says Halpin.

“If the child discontinues wearing the lens, the eyes will go back to the way they were before we even started.”

Ortho-K isn’t for every child, as it takes awhile to get used to going to sleep with the lenses.

“It’s kind of like braces,” says Halstead. “When you first get braces, you’re very aware of it, and then they become part of your mouth. We’re recommending that kids wear this until their vision stops changing, and when you’re 21, if you want, you might be a candidate for Lasik.”

Su says his son Max has no trouble using the lenses.

“For the first couple of nights, it took him time to put them on, take them off, but once he got used to it, it was pretty smooth.”

Su and his wife, Tracy (Qun) Lin, who are both physicians, heard about Ortho-K from friends and read about it online.

Su is a medical oncologist/hematologist at St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam, and Lin is an internist.

The couple came to the United States from Shanghai, China, in 1992. Max, who will be a seventh-grader at Maple Avenue Middle School next month, and his sister, Rachel, a freshman at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, were born in this country.

Ortho-K is “pretty popular in the Asian population,” says Su.

“The Asian population has been doing this for quite some time,” says Halstead. “We have a large number of Asian families that have moved into the area in recent years as a result of the whole technology highway, what’s going on in Albany, Schenectady and Malta.”

On the web site, besides Dr. Halpin in Saratoga Springs, the only orthokeratologists within 100 miles of Saratoga Springs are in New Paltz and Brattleboro, Vermont.

“A lot of our friends, they go to New Jersey for Ortho-K but I think it’s too far because you need frequent visits, especially in the first couple of weeks,” says Su.

At Family Vision, for the average patient, the two-year Ortho-K program costs about $3,000, a price that includes evaluation, imaging, fitting, custom lenses and a backup pair of lenses.

By the third year, the cost drops to about $375 a year.

Ortho-K is not yet covered by insurance but can be billed to HSA (flex spending) accounts. Interest-free financing is also available.

“It’s preventative health care. We hope insurance companies will get on board down the road,” says Halpin.

“Even economically speaking, for the country, we’ll spend less on health care.”

Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or [email protected]

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