ReLEx SMILE: The latest innovation in Laser Eye Surgery

The last few decades have brought a whole host of technological innovations that have improved almost every aspect of our lives. Almost everything is easier today than it was 40 years ago, from watching TV to planning a holiday. But many of the most important innovations of our time have improved healthcare and surgical techniques.

Patients are now experiencing fewer complications, faster recovery times, and shorter hospital stays – and patients undergoing elective procedures like Laser Eye Surgery are no exception.

Laser Eye Surgery has been around for almost 40 years, during which time it has improved the vision of millions of people around the globe. For much of this time, Laser Eye Surgery has been at the forefront of surgical intervention, utilising state-of-the-art technology and cutting-edge scientific research.

One development, in particular, has helped to revolutionise Laser Eye Surgery: ReLEx SMILE.

ReLEx SMILE is the latest, minimally-invasive Laser Eye Surgery technique. Short for Small Incision Lenticule Extraction, SMILE was first performed in 2008 using the Carl Zeiss VisuMax laser. Three years later, in 2011, the treatment first became available at London Vision Clinic, where it has been performed successfully ever since.

So, what exactly is ReLEx SMILE and why was it so revolutionary?

What is ReLEx SMILE?

As already touched upon, ReLEx SMILE is a minimally-invasive Laser Eye Surgery technique. Unlike older methods like LASEK and LASIK, SMILE doesn’t require the removal of epithelium from the cornea. Instead, surgeons are able to access and draw out tissue from the corneal bed through a tiny keyhole, created using a precise laser.

Building on the success of the LASIK method – in which a corneal flap is created to access the corneal bed – SMILE has revolutionised Laser Eye Surgery, introducing faster procedures and recovery times, and reducing pain and discomfort for patients. To date, millions of people around the world have benefitted from this amazing development.

When it comes to ReLEx SMILE here at the London Vision Clinic, it all started – as many great innovations do – with a strong and influential partnership. For almost ten years, London Vision Clinic has worked closely with Carl Zeiss Meditec — a world leader in the field of optics.

“I believe this long-term, strategic partnership will continue to help Carl Zeiss Meditec maintain its position as a technology leader.” – Stefan Kaiser, Director Refractive Lasers, Carl Zeiss Meditec.

Our close association with Carl Zeiss stems from the pioneering work of our founder, Prof. Dan Reinstein. Prof. Reinstein is a key medical consultant for Carl Zeiss, playing a pivotal role in groundbreaking projects such as the Mel 90 Excimer laser and, of course, ReLEx SMILE surgery.

“ReLEx SMILE represents the next-generation in corrective vision treatments” – Professor Dan Reinstein

ReLEx SMILE is a lot of things, but first and foremost, as Prof Reinstein suggests, it’s a new surgical technique that represents a breakthrough in laser vision correction treatments.

How Does it Work?

During the early years of Laser Eye Surgery in the 1980s, surgeons used a microkeratome – a surgical instrument with an oscillating blade – to make a small flap in the cornea. At the turn of the century, surgeons were able to move away from this invasive technique as the femtosecond laser was approved for use. This led to an all-laser approach to Laser Eye Surgery.

In SMILE procedures, a VisuMax laser is used to create an incision in the epithelium using a number of short pulses. These pulses create tiny bubbles in the cornea, allowing the surface layer to detach from the stromal layer underneath. Through this keyhole incision, the surgeon is then able to extract the tissue and reshape the corneal bed.

What are the benefits of SMILE?

Reduced recovery times

The ability to access the corneal bed without the creation of a flap or removal of the cornea means significantly reduced times in surgery and accelerated recovery times. The whole procedure can be carried out in minutes and patients may be enjoying their new vision in just 24 hours.

“Several great advances come from not having to create a flap or disturb the front of the cornea; the level of correction can be much higher without weakening the cornea, and people who are contact lens intolerant can now be candidates as there is little or no dry eye after ReLEx,” says Professor Reinstein

The introduction of LASIK in the late 80s meant that Laser Eye Surgery patients were often able to receive treatment in the morning and be back at work the next day. But SMILE takes this to a whole new level with patients recovering at an even faster rate. Due to the minimally-invasive technique, vision reaches 80 per cent instantly and 100 per cent within a few days.

Increased patient suitability

Another major benefit to SMILE is its suitability for a wider range of patients – including those with very high prescriptions. Prior to the introduction of SMILE, patients with extreme short- or long-sightedness or astigmatism were often not eligible for Laser Eye Surgery – and this is still true at many clinics today.

As higher prescriptions require more tissue to be removed, the cornea needs to be thick enough to allow surgeons to create a flap and reshape the tissue underneath. Without the need for a flap to be created, SMILE allows surgeons to reshape the tissue while leaving the cornea intact – allowing for the treatment of much higher prescriptions than previously thought possible.

“Not only is the patient experience greatly enhanced, as there is less surgical manipulation of the eye–making it less invasive than traditional Laser Eye Surgery, but it also makes vision correction available to people who would have previously been told they were unsuitable candidates. It’s a major development.” —Professor Dan Reinstein

Thanks to its minimally-invasive nature, SMILE has opened up the possibilities of Laser Eye Surgery to millions more patients. Even those who have been told in the past that they are unsuitable for treatment may now be eligible. Whether you have thin corneas, dry eyes or are intolerant to contact lenses, SMILE could help.

With 1 million eyes treated in a little over half a decade, the future looks bright for SMILE. Find out more about the revolutionary laser treatment by asking a question below or contacting one of our friendly clinic coordinators.

Our Fees start from £5,500 for standard treatment. Higher or very complex prescriptions may cost up to £6,900. Flexible finance makes the best more affordable: Choose payments from £56 per month, or a low 10% upfront. Payment plans from one to five years are available including a 24-month interest-free option. Read more.