If you find yourself holding fine print at an arm’s length or tend to regularly misplace your reading glasses, there may be a new solution to alleviating those everyday woes. San Antonio is now home to one of three ophthalmology practices in the U.S. offering a newly Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved procedure to correct presbyopia, or age-related farsightedness.

Dr. Gregory Parkhurst, refractive surgeon at Parkhurst NuVision, recently announced the release of the Raindrop Near Vision Inlay, an implantable device that changes the shape of the cornea to improve near vision in patients with presbyopia. The procedure has helped patients worldwide regain their reading vision, which can quickly deteriorate after the age of 40.

Parkhurst has been instrumental in conducting clinical trials for Raindrop and has worked closely with the FDA throughout the six-year approval process. The Raindrop inlay is designed to restore the natural range of zoom vision without compromising distance vision.

“This technology is going to allow us to help people with their zoom and up-close vision,” Parkhurst said. “It is for people, primarily the over-40 crowd, who are frustrated at having to wear reading glasses, or who hold the menu at arm’s length just to be able to read it.”

Baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, are the largest demographic joining the population that needs reading glasses for small print. As the eye ages, the lens inside the eye becomes stiffer and gradually loses its ability to change shape and zoom into focus. Early symptoms of presbyopia include difficulty reading fine print and in poor lighting. The more the lens deteriorates, the more difficult close-up work and reading on computers gets as well.

I got quite the education listening to Parkhurst as he met with a patient who drove all the way from Georgetown, Texas to learn more about options for correcting her near vision.

“Stage 1 is when the natural eye lens stiffens and doesn’t zoom anymore,” Parkhurst told Marsha Spreeuwers and her husband Fred.

“Stage 2 is when the natural eye lens will start to lose its clarity. That’s when people notice how it is harder to focus at a distance, and everything is less crisp when driving at night, or they need more light to read. At Stage 3, the lenses are clouded over, at which point you have cataracts.”

The procedure is done at the clinic and typically takes Parkhurst about 15 minutes to perform.

“I was one of the first patients who got it (Raindrop) once it was approved,” patient Tom Armbruster said. “I have a private pilot’s license and started flying again recently after I retired.

“After the procedure I could easily see the instruments and outside the cockpit without having to use glasses, so for me, the Raindrop was a game changer. The procedure itself was quick, and the follow up care has been excellent.”

Dr. Gregory Parkhurst consults with patient Marsha Spreeuwers and her husband Fred Spreeuwers. Photo by Scott Ball.
Dr. Gregory Parkhurst consults with patient Marsha Spreeuwers and her husband Fred Spreeuwers. Credit: Scott Ball

Options for Correcting Presbyopia

Parkhurst explained the options available for patients interested in correcting their deteriorating near vision.

The most common has been monovision Lasik surgery. The dominant eye is corrected for distance vision and the nondominant eye for near and intermediate vision. Using both eyes together, the brain learns to blend the images to give an improved depth of focus. The blended vision procedure is designed to avoid too large a discrepancy in vision between both eyes, and is currently the most common form of improving reading vision in the U.S.

Having had monovision Lasik surgery at 42, I asked Parkhurst why I now needed glasses for reading, for computer work, and even for driving at night.

“The correction was done when your presbyopia was not as advanced,” Parkhurst explained. “Your natural eye lenses have continued to age and the monovision Lasik can no longer correct for the lens failing to zoom.”

The effects of aging eyes – deteriorating night vision, inability to read menus in dim restaurants, and eventually cataracts – are all natural consequences of lenses stiffening and clouding as we grow older.

The Raindrop Near Vision Inlay is a clear device made of an 80% water hydrogel material that resembles a contact lens smaller than the eye of a needle. At only two millimeters in diameter and half the thickness of a human hair, the transparent inlay focuses light coming into your eye. A reversible in-office procedure, the inlay corrects near vision while maintaining distance vision in both eyes.

“It’s a major advancement,” Parkhurst said. “We’ve not had a way to treat near vision without affecting distance vision until now. Plus, it is designed to last throughout the full range of presbyopia progression so it does not wear off.”

The new corneal inlay Raindrop procedure, however, may not be for everyone.

“There are clinical parameters that determine whether a patient is a good candidate or not for this procedure,” Parkhurst said. “In that case, we can recommend other options for near vision correction.”

Refractive lens replacement equipment is the latest technology to be introduced to the vision correction market. Photo by Scott Ball.
Refractive lens replacement equipment is another recent technology to be introduced to the vision correction market. Credit: Scott Ball

Besides monovision Lasik, there is another option for near vision correction. Refractive lens exchange replaces the aging, clouded lens with a new lens for sharper focus. The multifocal lens provides both near and far vision with the same eye and is a permanent replacement that lasts a lifetime.

An added benefit is that patients who get refractive lens replacement will never suffer from cataracts.

“You don’t have to wait until you get cataracts to get a lens replacement,” Parkhurst said. “As a major benefit, you won’t need glasses either.”

Over the past 40 years there have been dramatic advances in cataract surgery, which once required bed rest and up to two weeks recovery in a hospital. Since the cloudy lenses were removed but not replaced, it meant wearing thick glasses in order to see in detail.

“Before, it made sense to wait until cataracts were so severe (that) they had to be taken out,” Parkhurst said. “There were significant risks and fewer benefits with cataract surgery.

“With modern refractive lens exchange, patients typically return to work in one day, the benefits are dramatically increased, and risks dramatically decreased. In certain cases, we aren’t able to completely eliminate glasses for all occasions, but with the refractive lens exchange procedure done in both eyes, working on near vision together and at distance together, it greatly reduces the need for glasses.”

Dr. Art Medina also oversees and manages the Lasik and refractive surgery clinical care provided at Parkhurst NuVision. After Medina began taking patients from his practice in San Antonio to Houston – where Parkhurst was one of a select few eye surgeons in the country participating in the advanced FDA-approved clinical trials – Parkhurst and Medina decided to work together. Parkhurst is now permanently located in San Antonio.

“We are a comprehensive vision correction practice,” Medina said. “Not every patient may need laser correction. We’ll work with the patient and provide the best options available.”

Dr. Art Medina explains the technology behind the new innovative procedure. Photo by Scott Ball.
Dr. Art Medina explains the technology behind the new innovative procedure. Credit: Scott Ball

Approximately 65 patients have received the Raindrop corneal inlay since the clinical study started. To help them choose between Raindrop and Lasik, patients can try out a simulation of what their corrected vision will be like after each procedure.

Parkhurst NuVision is located at 9725 Datapoint Dr., in the same building that now houses the University of Incarnate Word’s Rosenberg School of Optometry. To learn more about Parkhurst NuVision or to schedule a consultation to see if you’re a good candidate for the Raindrop inlay, call (210) 615-9358 or visit their website here.

Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science, and veteran affairs. She won the Texas Veterans Commission Media Excellence Awards for her 2016 Veterans Day story "Life as a Veteran: What Veterans...