The laser had already existed in theory long before it became a reality in 1960, when the first working laser was tested by researcher Theodore Maiman. As early as 1917, scientists like Albert Einstein were already working out the foundations of laser technology in studies like The Quantum Theory of Radiation. But even in 1960, after the testing of Maiman’s laser, many people were skeptical as to whether light could actually work as a viable, physical medical instrument. It has been nearly five decades since then, and laser technology has advanced exponentially, becoming one of the most essential and versatile tools in the world of surgical procedures.
The most recognizable surgical field in the advancement of which lasers have been crucial is ophthalmology. Eye surgery is almost always associated with laser surgery. It was the laser that first allowed doctors to conduct ultra-precise surgical procedures on their patient’s eyes without the risk of seriously damaging them. The excimer laser, specifically, was important in the advancement of eye surgery. The excimer laser, rather than burn through tissue, simply provided enough energy to dissolve the bonds that hold tissue together, allowing it to evaporate into the air without causing harm to surrounding structures.
But lasers are used in a lot of other kinds of surgical procedures as well. The laser scalpel, for example is used to make all kinds of precise, delicate incisions that would otherwise be extremely dangerous. Carbon dioxide lasers are the most commonly used for laser scalpels. They cut at the same, consistent depth, eliminating the danger of a doctor cutting too deeply with a metal scalpel. Laser scalpels also have the advantage of being able to cauterize open blood vessels even while cutting through tissue, which helps tremendously in avoiding the danger of excessive blood loss.
Laser technology is also helping to make certain risky medical procedures unnecessary. The open-heart surgery required to de-clog a patient’s arteries, for example, is no longer the only option available. Using a miniature laser attached to a thin optical fiber array, doctors can reach the heart’s arteries through the patient’s leg or arm veins. Once at the artery, the laser is fired and the harmful plaque is destroyed.