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New cosmetic procedure provides whiter eyes

February 3, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
If you want whiter teeth, you can go to a dentist and get them brightened. Now a new procedure can give you whiter eyes too. But is cosmetic surgery for your eyes a good idea? Here's the eye-opening story.As a lawyer Steven Smith works long hours and reads a lot of fine print. But he blames years of sun exposure for making his eyes red.

"The byproduct of years of sport-fishing and, very foolishly, without sunglasses," said Smith.

It irritates him when people tell him how tired he looks. So when his ophthalmologist, Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, described the new eye-whitening procedure called I-BRITE, Smith decided to give it a try.

"The I-BRITE procedure consists of three steps," explained Wachler. "The first step is that I mark the area that needs to be removed. That has the blood vessels or the yellow or brown pigmented spots. The second step is I delicately remove that membrane that contains all the blood vessels, and the yellowing or the pigment and that reveals the underlying white of the eyes which we all had when we were kids."

I-BRITE is basically a procedure called conjunctivoplasty, a procedure that's been around for decades. Surgeons use this to remove pterygium, or growths in the eyes.

But taking away healthy normal eye tissue purely for cosmetic reasons concern some eye surgeons. They say that tissue is in your eyes for a reason.

"The blood vessels really need to be there," said ophthalmologist Dr. Allen Berg. "They supply oxygen to the underlying surfaces to the eye."

Berg says that conjunctiva helps protect and lubricate the eye and removing it could increase the possibility of dry eyes and cause scarring. There's also a possible side effect of infection. Berg says eye drops may be a better alternative for red eyes.

"We have this particular procedure where you have normal tissue where you have a little bit of redness. I think it's a market overkill," explained Berg. "It would be, I guess, taking a sledgehammer to a flea."

Wachler says the surgery takes about 30 minutes and patients can return to work the next day.

I-BRITE costs between $3,000 to $5000 per eye, but like most cosmetic procedures, it isn't covered by insurance.

Even though the procedure is new, Wachler says he expects the results to be long-lasting.