eye2eye interview with the Air-Puff tonometer

Posted on April 13, 2011 · Posted in Instruments

NCT/Air-Puff Tonometer

Most people who have regular eye health examinations are familiar with the importance of measuring intraocular pressure.   This reading can be taken a number of ways, but perhaps the most notorious is the non-contact, or air-puff, tonometer.  We recently had the opportunity to sit down with our retired instrument and discuss its career in eye care and even uncover its unexpected emotional side.

FV: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.  How have you been and what have you been up to since retirement?

Air-Puff: Hey, my pleasure.  Thanks for the opportunity.  Retirement is so crazy…you spend your whole career looking forward to it, but when it arrives you find yourself missing all the great people you got to meet and work with.

FV: A lot of people don’t understand what purpose you served in the exam.  Can you explain how you work and what your role was?

Air-Puff: Sure, I’d love to.  My job when someone came to see me was to figure out the pressure inside their eyes.  The way I accomplished this was by puffing a small burst of air toward the eye and measuring the amount of time that burst took to temporarily flatten the surface.  The lower the pressure inside a person’s eye, the quicker the surface flattened.  I could then convert that time into a pressure reading for the doctor.

FV: And we, as doctors, could then use that reading to help in determining risk for glaucoma, presence of inflammation, anatomical abnormalities, medication side-effects, etc.

Air-Puff: Yeah, I think that is a very important point.  I think a lot of people thought of me as “the glaucoma test”.  As you know, there is so much more to glaucoma than a test of the pressure inside the eye.  I didn’t like being labeled a one-trick-pony like that, but I understand where the confusion comes from.

FV: I sense a little bit of agitation.

Air-Puff: Well, I loved what I did but it would be silly of me to think people enjoyed my part of the exam.   Imagine coming to work every day knowing that people don’t want to see you.  As much as I loved what I did, the patients did not.  I find comfort in knowing that I did my job to the best of my ability and helped many people, but I wish my relationship with the patients was less adversarial.

FV: Is that what ultimately led to your retirement?

Air-Puff: I think that and it was just my time to move on.  Newer screening methods have been developed that don’t use a puff of air and patients like them a lot better.  I won’t pretend that it doesn’t hurt my feelings slightly, but it isn’t supposed to be about me.  It should be about the patients and what’s best for them.

FV: Well said.  So what’s next for you?

Air-Puff: Oh I’ll be around.  Eye care is in my circuitry.  But I will be an observer rather than active participant.  I’m sure if someone specifically requested to see me I could be pulled out of retirement but, from what I have seen so far, I don’t think that will happen too often.

FV: Thanks for the memories, Air-Puff.

Air-Puff: No…thank you.  It was my pleasure.