The Future Of Eye Care In 2021: Trends & Insights

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Over the past two decades, science has transformed eye care in a way that was once unimaginable. From laser eye surgery to implantable contact lenses, there are more ways than ever to treat and even permanently fix a wide range of eye conditions.

The Future Of Eye Care In 2021: Trends & Insights arteum ro 7H41oiADqqg unsplash 1


But what does the future of eye care look like, right now, in 2021? Will we look back in two decades and be just as impressed with our progress?

All indications suggest so – and here are four of the biggest reasons why.

The role of AI in eye care

When we look to the future of eye care, it’s no surprise that artificial intelligence is right at the forefront.

Research by Moorfields Eye Hospital and DeepMind Health found that a new AI system could make the correct referral decision for more than 50 eye diseases with 94% accuracy, matching the world’s top ophthalmologists.

Currently, ophthalmologists have to manually review optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans to diagnose a patient’s condition. This can be a very complex and time-consuming task, which can delay a patient’s diagnosis and make long-lasting damage more likely.

How AI eye care works

Thankfully, artificial intelligence offers a new solution to this problem: a mathematical system that automatically identifies features of common eye diseases in OCT scans, and recommends referrals based on the most urgent conditions detected.

It’s hoped that this technology could revolutionise and redefine eye care treatment across the world, as it offers a new, faster and more accurate way for ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat serious eye conditions before it’s too late.

As a result, the future of eye care looks promising, with more patients receiving the treatment they need to restore their vision and avoid any irreversible damage. This could see a significant reduction in rates of vision loss and the conditions that lead to it.

Light therapy to relieve dry eye

If you’re tired of using eye drops to relieve chronic dry eye, you’ll be relieved to know that an alternative treatment is now available.

A recent study has found that intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, combined with meibomian gland expression (MGX), can significantly improve dry eye symptoms in 89% of patients.

One of the leading causes of chronic dry eye is meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which is when the meibomian glands – tiny oil glands lining the margin of the eyelids – don’t produce enough oil to keep the eyes moist. This is often the result of inflammation caused by conditions like facial or ocular rosacea, which is characterised by dilated blood vessels.

Whereas over-the-counter treatments, like eye drops and warm compresses, treat the symptoms of MGD, IPL therapy treats the condition itself by reducing these blood vessels and, in turn, opening up the meibomian glands and alleviating dryness.

How IPL therapy works

IPL therapy works by beaming light into the second layer of skin (dermis), where pigment cells absorb the light energy and convert it into heat. This heat then destroys unwanted cells, like dilated blood vessels, which can reduce inflammation and stimulate the meibomian glands.

Followed up with meibomian gland expression, the act of applying pressure to the eyelids to express the glands and release obstructed oils, IPL therapy has been proven to provide long-term relief from chronically dry eyes.

This is great news for the future of eye care, as it not only provides sufferers of dry eyes with a possible new treatment, but also opens them up to other eye treatments they might not have been previously suitable for, such as laser eye surgery.

Eye surgery assisted by robots

In more good news for the future of eye care, the first human test of robotic eye surgery found that robots can play an important role in various procedures.

Carried out at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, the trial involved twelve patients – six of whom received robot-assisted surgery and six who received standard, manual surgery to remove a membrane from the back of the eye.

It also tested whether the robotic retinal dissection device could insert a fine needle under the retina to dissolve blood in three patients who had age-related macular degeneration.

In both tests, the robot-assisted surgeon was able to perform the relevant procedure with equal or better efficacy than in the traditional manual approach. All patients experienced an improvement in their vision in the same way that would’ve usually been expected.

How robot-assisted eye surgery works

The robot operates inside the eye through a hole smaller than 1mm in diameter. It is designed to eliminate unwanted tremors in the surgeon’s hand (such as those caused by their pulse) to make procedures safer and more effective.

Although some surgeons can already carry out these procedures, the robot makes it far easier and enables the development of new, high-precision treatments that would not be possible without a robotic device acting as a mechanical hand.

During robot-assisted eye surgery, the surgeon uses a joystick and touchscreen to control the robot whilst monitoring its progress through a microscope, which makes it possible for the surgeon to carry out procedures they usually wouldn’t be able to do.

Because of this, it’s hoped that clinics will soon be able to treat eye conditions in a more effective, safer, and less-invasive way. It also means that new surgeries will be developed for currently untreatable conditions and for those who cannot undergo existing procedures, due to the need for high precision.

Bionic eye implants

Studies have shown that bionic eye implants, including the Argus II, which has been approved in the UK, Canada and USA, could offer a ground-breaking solution to blindness.

In simple terms, a bionic eye – or a retinal prosthesis – is an electronic substitute for the retina: a thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye and enables us to see. They aim to restore vision by bypassing the damaged photoreceptors (which are responsible for capturing light) and sending visual signals straight to the brain.

Although this doesn’t provide or restore natural sight, it does allow previously blinded patients to see and recognise certain objects and shapes, like doorways and silhouettes. In time, it is thought that their brains could potentially re-learn how to process this information and lead to further improved vision.

While this is certainly a huge step forward, it’s important to be aware that bionic eyes are designed for those who are blind but once had sight. This is because the brain must be able to interpret the device’s signals, which someone blinded from birth might not be able to do.

That said, with more research and clinical trials, bionic eye implants could lead to a future where blindness is a thing of the past. And although we’re not quite at that stage yet in 2021, it’s certainly a positive sign that the future of eye care is brighter than it’s ever been.