Laser energy has begun to supplant the surgeon's scalpel in New Zealand during operations to replace cloudy lenses in the eyes - cataracts.

Eye specialists say this is a major advance in a common type of surgery.

The Eye Institute, a private sector clinic in Auckland, was the country's first eye clinic to start doing the "bladeless" cataract surgery, using an ultra-short-pulse "femtosecond" laser machine, followed by one in Christchurch. None has been installed in public hospitals.

A third clinic, Auckland Eye, has just received its laser cataract surgery machine and eye surgeons will start treating patients with it next month.


Some degree of cataract - progressive cloudiness of the eye's crystalline lens - is considered a normal part of ageing. The condition causes a progressive blurring of vision. The risk of cataracts is greater for diabetics and those with elevated exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Cataract surgery is a common procedure. The opaque lens is removed through an incision in the cornea and an artificial lens is implanted.

With the computerised laser machine, the incisions in the cornea are made automatically.

The Eye Institute charges about $4300 an eye for cataract surgery using the traditional technique and $988 extra if the patient opts to have it done with the clinic's Alcon LenSx laser machine. Martin Johnston