Purpose: To determine differences of corneal wound healing and haze after photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) using either mechanical epithelial debridement or laser-scrape epithelial removal in human subjects. Design: A 6-month randomized, masked, prospective, paired-eye clinical study. Participants: Twenty eyes in 10 myopic patients treated between March 1999 and May 1999. Intervention: Photorefractive keratectomy treatments with two different epithelial removal techniques. Continuous z-scan of confocal image, termed confocal microscopy through focusing (CMTF), was performed before surgery and at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months after surgery. Main Outcomes Measures: Epithelial and stromal thickness measurement, achieved stromal ablation depth, and objective assessment of corneal light-backscattering (corneal haze) were obtained from digital image analysis of the CMTF scans. Manifest refraction was also measured. Student's paired t test or two-way repeated-measures analysis of variance after rank transformation were performed to evaluate statistical differences between groups. Results: Comparison of the mean posttreatment spherical equivalent between the two techniques showed no statistically significant difference. In preoperative corneas, mean epithelial thickness was 50.08 ± 3.70 μm in the mechanical debridement group and 50.49 ± 4.01 μm in laser-scrape group (not significant). For both groups, the epithelium was significantly thinner at 3 weeks, but returned to preoperative values by 6 months, with no difference between groups. Planned stromal ablation depth by PRK was 59.38 ± 11.48 μm (39-73 μm; n = 8) in the mechanical group and 57.75 ± 7.21 μm (48-70 μm; n = 8) in the laser-scrape group. Achieved stromal ablation depth was not significantly different between the two groups. Most importantly, in both groups CMTF-measured corneal haze increased significantly after surgery, peaked at 3 months, and then decreased at 6 months, with no significant difference between groups. (Power = 0.96). Conclusions: There is no significant difference in the corneal wound healing response between mechanical epithelial debridement versus laser-scrape technique in human myopic eyes undergoing PRK.
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