Laser eye surgery has been around for more than 20 years now. An estimated 10 million happy customers have had the procedure in the United States, but some experts are still concerned about the risks.
On the bright side, the devices used in LASIK surgery, the most common form of treatment, have been approved by the FDA. Most patients end up with vision between 20/20 and 20/40, which is high enough to pass a driver's test.
Most complications are mild, but some can be serious. That includes permanent dry eyes, pain, and reduced or lost vision. The FDA has also warned about misleading advertising.
You can increase your chances of success by being an informed patient. Study this quick guide to what you can expect before, during, and after laser eye surgery.
1. Understand the procedure. The operation usually takes less than 30 minutes. Your doctor will give you a numbing agent and use a laser or a mechanical device to reshape your cornea. In some cases, you may need revision surgery to deal with side effects or adjust your vision further.
2. Review your background. Many poor outcomes could be avoided by screening out patients for whom laser eye surgery is not recommended. There can be many reasons, such as thin corneas, cataracts, extremely poor vision, and other health issues. It also helps to be over 21, so your vision is less likely to change.
3. Find a practitioner. Beware of aggressive sales tactics. You may want to stick with a university medical center or contact the American Academy of Ophthalmology for a referral.
4. Allow for aging. Keep in mind that your vision can still naturally decline with age. You may eventually need reading glasses. Some older patients even opt for monovision, where one eye is left more nearsighted and the other more farsighted.
5. Check your finances. Insurance will not cover LASIK surgery in most cases. You can usually use a flexible spending account or health savings account to pay for the expenses.
6. Consider your lifestyle. If there's no medical reason holding you back, it’s still important to weigh the risks. You might long to be free of eyeglasses and contact lenses, or they might be satisfactory for you.
1. Expect side effects. Some temporary symptoms are very common after LASIK surgery. You may experience dry eyes, burning, and itching. You may also notice glare, halos, and double vision. For most patients, these issues resolve themselves in the first year, or even within a few days.
2. Stay dry. Shield your eyes from non-sterile water and other potential irritants. Be careful showering or take a bath instead. Wear sunglasses outdoors to minimize exposure to debris and bright lights.
3. Resist rubbing. You’ll probably be tempted to touch your eyes, but it’s important to keep your hands off for at least a month. Lubricating with artificial tears can help.
4. Follow up. Show up for your postoperative visits and follow your doctor’s recommendations. They’ll let you know when it’s safe to resume various activities and may prescribe eye drops to protect you from inflammation and infection.
5. Seek urgent care. Call your doctor immediately if you have severe pain or any discharge, or if your symptoms become significantly worse. Prompt attention may save your eyesight.
Most patients are pleased with their decision to have laser eye surgery. If you’re hoping to join them, talk with your doctor to ensure that you’re an appropriate candidate and that your expectations are realistic.
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