Is LASIK Safe?

BY: Mel Kassel | Jun 10, 2016

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Is LASIK safe? The FDA says yes, but it and other forms of eye surgery certainly sound scary, especially to the uninformed. Actually, having anything except for contact lenses or stray lashes touch our eyes—one of our most sensitive body parts—is almost unthinkable. That’s why getting LASIK is still a daunting proposition for many. To help ease their minds, we’ve answered some common questions about the procedure in the most calming way possible. (Cue up the Rain Sounds relaxation CD … )

What is LASIK?

The acronym

Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis obviously doesn’t mean much to laypeople. Let’s break it down. In situ is Latin for “in position.” Keratomileusis, a word for this type of surgery, is informative once you know its Greek roots: keras, which means “horn” or “cornea,” and smileusis, or “carving.” Put it all together: Laser-assisted positioned corneal carving!

The procedure

“Corneal carving” doesn’t sound pleasant, but remember: LASIK is safe. It’s better to think about the procedure as “reshaping” to improve vision.

1. The eye of the qualified candidate is numbed.

2. The surgeon creates a small flap on the corneal surface using a laser or microkeratome blade.

3. A different laser precisely reshapes the curvature of the cornea under the flap based on the patient’s degree of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism.

4. The flap is replaced to fuse with the rest of the cornea, which doesn’t require stitches.

Is LASIK safe?

Yes. In addition to being FDA approved for reducing dependence on glasses or contact lenses, it is extremely successful for most patients. However, like any surgery, there are risks.

  • Pre-surgery screening: Some people are disqualified due to conditions such as chronic dry eye, thin corneas, diabetes, or glaucoma. Prospective patients should inform their doctor of their medical history and get evaluated for any eye conditions.
  • Post-surgery complications: Patients may experience dry eyes, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, glare around light sources, and double vision. These effects are temporary and mild for most, but for a small number of cases they become permanent and seriously interfere with daily activities.

Is LASIK painful?

The surgery itself should be painless. The eyes are numbed beforehand, and the procedure takes about 10 minutes per eye—less than a minute of that involves actual lasering. At most, you’ll feel pressure from the lid speculum, which gently holds your eyes open, and a suction ring used before the corneal flap is created.

Since you can’t close your eyelids, it isn’t possible to mess with the surgery by blinking or winking at a passing hottie. And though you’ll be told to look at a light to keep your eye relatively steady, it’s OK if it moves a bit. The laser has an advanced tracking system that redirects the beam as the eye moves, and it doesn’t target tissue that it’s not supposed to.

Are there LASIK side effects?

There are mild side effects, but for most patients they’re temporary. LASIK’s recovery time is fairly short.

  • The day of surgery: After the procedure, you’ll probably experience itchy, burning, and watery eyes—as if they have something small stuck in them—for about 4–6 hours. Your vision will be blurry, so someone else has to get you home. These symptoms can be eased by doctor-prescribed pain medication or eye drops; many patients choose to sleep rather than focus on the discomfort.
  • The next few days: Most patients find their vision improves enough for them to return to work the day after surgery. Vision may continue to be hazy and feature “halos” or other types of glare, particularly at night.
  • Three to six months: Follow-up appointments with an ophthalmologist help monitor progress, but in this time period optimal vision improvement should be realized and any LASIK side effects should subside. In rare cases, though, symptoms like dry eye and blurred vision can be permanent.

How long does LASIK last?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reports that “more than 90 percent of people who have LASIK achieve somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40 vision without glasses or contact lenses.” So LASIK might not get you absolutely perfect vision, but it does typically eliminate dependence on corrective lenses for most everyday tasks.

Patients begin to see more clearly within a few days after their appointment, but some people’s vision takes longer to improve and settle at its final acuity—as long as six months. And you still might need to wear glasses or contacts for nighttime driving and similar activities.

Are these effects permanent?

LASIK cannot be considered totally permanent. Although its effects on the cornea are lifelong, it cannot treat presbyopia, or age-related farsightedness, which generally starts to occur around age 40. So it’s not uncommon to need reading glasses even if you’ve had LASIK.

Additionally, the AAO reports that about 10.5% of LASIK patients in the US require a second treatment—or enhancement—to achieve the desired results. This is more common in those who required more intensive vision correction to begin with.

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