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Carol Vorderman's sight was too blurry to put on her make-up until 'miraculous' laser surgery
01:57 GMT, 22 May 2012
Carol Vorderman has managed to defy the effects of time.
Not only does she look far younger than her 51 years, she is also remarkably free from any aches and pains.
Yet there is one facet of getting older that even she could not hold off — failing eyesight.
'I couldn't put my make-up on or see messages on my phone. Even the food I was eating would look blurry,' said Carol Vorderman
Carol, who found fame on the Channel 4 quizshow Countdown and last year became a presenter on ITV’s Loose Women, had perfect vision until her mid-40s, when it started to go downhill.
‘I had read in a magazine that the average age for a woman’s eyesight to fail is 46.
'Well, within three months of reaching 46, sure enough my eyesight started to go bluhhh,’ says Carol, who is twice divorced and has a daughter Katie, 20, and son Cameron, 15.
‘I started having to hold things further and further away from me in order to focus properly.
'I couldn’t put my make-up on or see messages on my phone. Even the food I was eating would look blurry.’
Presbyopia, as it is known, is an inevitable part of ageing.
‘Even RAF pilots who once had perfect vision get it,’ says Professor David Gartry, from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and a consultant surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London.
‘It’s a design fault with the eye. When the eye focuses on something close up or far away, the lens has to change shape — it becomes fatter to see things close up and thinner to focus on things in the distance.
‘When we are children we can change our focus with ease.
‘However, as we get older the lens gets stiffer and it gets harder to move between the two.
'Before the operation, I wasn't nervous, but then I'm not that kind of person,' said Carol
‘So generally, by the time you reach your 40s, you find that you have to hold things further away to see them.’
Carol started using reading glasses as her eyesight started to deteriorate but found them frustrating.
‘I felt a little conscious about wearing them, but really it was more the sheer inconvenience that got to me,’ she says.
‘It is so time-consuming to hunt round for some glasses just so you can quickly read something. I had to buy loads of pairs because you never know when you will need them.
‘So I kept three sets in my rucksack (I’m not a handbag girl), two in the kitchen, two in the bathroom, two in the bedroom, two by the telly, a pair in the car, and a pair in the pocket of my favourite coat. They were just everywhere.’
She adds: ‘On Loose Women I normally make notes about bits and pieces and I had to write them in really big letters to see them without my glasses.
‘I also run an online maths school, and it was frustrating not being able to see what I was doing.’
Fed up with glasses, Carol decided to opt for laser surgery, and discovered a procedure called laser blended vision.
‘In the older forms of laser surgery, one eye is adapted to see distance and one eye sees up close, but there is a blur in the intermediate range, which you’d use, for example, to look at a computer,’ explains Professor Dan Reinstein, of the London Vision clinic, who developed laser blended vision.
‘With the new technique, one eye is set to see things close with just a slight blurring at distance and the other is set to see things in the distance with only a slight blurring for near vision.
‘The brain is used to seeing things in a binocular fashion and suppressing any blurring in one or the other eye, so usually people adapt to this well.’
The procedure, which was first introduced in 2003, takes only minutes and the patient can go home 20 minutes later.
First, the surgeon uses a laser to create a flap the thickness of a human hair in the surface of the cornea, the transparent window at the front of the eye. The cornea bends light into the eye, allowing us to see.
This hinged flap is then lifted and a second ultraviolet laser removes a lens-shaped disc of tissue from the exposed bed of the cornea to help it change shape to focus.
The flap is replaced and then begins to heal instantly, although patients need to keep their eyes closed for a few hours afterwards to allow the edges of the flap to seal.
Vision might fluctuate slightly for a few weeks while the swelling within the cornea calms down.
The risks are the same as those for normal laser eye surgery, the main one being that people may experience dry eyes for a few months afterwards.
‘We are beginning to be able to do the whole procedure now as keyhole surgery — no longer requiring a flap at all — making the whole process even less invasive,’ says Professor Reinstein.
With keyhole surgery, the tissue is removed through a 3mm incision on the edge of the cornea, which means that the nerves at the front of the eye are untouched. This reduces the risk of complications such as dry eye.
However, even in its current form the procedure is not cheap, at around 4,600.
Laser blended vision was first introduced in 2003, takes only minutes and the patient can go home 20 minutes later
Also, although the changes made to the cornea are permanent, the ageing process within the eye continues.
So some people may require further surgery between five and ten years later (although the cost of a top-up procedure is a fraction of the original fee).
Laser blended vision is one of just a number of surgical or laser options for presbyopia — others include Intracor, where a laser beams pulses through the surface of the eye (without any incision) to reshape the cornea, and SupraCor, where a flap is created at the top of the eye.
‘These kinds of techniques, that combine reading and distance, always means there is an element of compromise,’ says Professor Gartry.
‘The vision generally will never be as crisp or as clear as it is normally.
‘It would not be suitable for people who have specific vision requirements, such as copy readers or professional drivers who need good, crisp vision.’
Carol found out about laser blended vision last year.
‘I wanted brilliant close vision because I do a lot of reading,’ she says.
‘I rarely drive any more, as I walk or take a taxi everywhere.
'Bristol, where I live, has to be the best city in the country for walking.
'Before the operation, I wasn’t nervous, but then I’m not that kind of person.
‘There was no pain anyway — there was just a sensation a bit like a gentle breeze on your eye followed by a slight burning smell. After the procedure the doctor showed me his watch. I screamed: “I can read it!” ’
Carol’s vision was a little blurry for the first day after, but is now almost perfect again.
‘Before my fading eyesight was affecting everything. Now I can just pick up anything and read it straight off — for me, this has been like a miracle.’