Is LASIK Right For You?

Over the last several years, the vision-correcting procedure known as LASIK has become very popular and a lot of my patients ask for it. While the thought of having a laser pointed at your eye may seem scary for some people, in reality, laser eye surgery is an easy, safe, relatively painless and FDA-approved procedure. Are you a good candidate for LASIK? Before you decide to have this procedure, here are some important points to consider so you can make as informed a decision as possible.

How LASIK works

LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) is an outpatient refractive surgery procedure used to treat nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. With LASIK, a laser is used to reshape the cornea — the clear, round dome at the front of the eye — to improve the way the eye focuses light rays onto the retina at the back of the eye, and therefore, to improve eyesight.

For people who are nearsighted, LASIK is used to flatten a cornea that is too steep. For those who are farsighted, LASIK can achieve a steeper cornea. LASIK can also correct astigmatism by shaping an irregular cornea into a more normal shape.

With LASIK, an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) creates a thin flap in the cornea using either a blade or a laser. The surgeon folds back the flap and precisely removes a very specific amount of corneal tissue under the flap using an excimer laser. The flap is then laid back into its original position where it heals in place. The laser treatment itself usually takes less than a minute, while the entire procedure takes approximately 15 minutes per eye.

Most eye surgeons perform LASIK on both eyes at the same time. It is not painful because anesthetic eye drops are placed in your eye first. If you do feel discomfort after the procedure, your ophthalmologist may prescribe pain medication.

Before having LASIK, have realistic expectations

LASIK allows people to perform most of their everyday tasks without corrective lenses. However, people looking for perfect vision without glasses or contacts run the risk of being disappointed.

More than 90% of people who have LASIK achieve somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40 vision without glasses or contact lenses. If sharp, detailed 20/20 vision is essential for your job or leisure activities, you may want to consider whether 20/40 vision would be adequate for you.

Even after having LASIK, you might need to wear glasses for certain activities, such as reading or driving at night. Also, you should be aware that LASIK cannot correct presbyopia, the age-related loss of close-up focusing power.

How to know if you’re a good candidate for LASIK

Your eye care professional can help you decide if LASIK is right for you but here are some general guidelines:

  • You must have healthy eyes: no glaucoma, infection, cataracts, severe dry eye or any other condition that would affect postoperative healing.
  • You must be an adult: age 21 or older(with some exceptions).
  • Your vision must be stable for at least a year before surgery.
  • If you’re pregnant or nursing, your hormonal levels can affect the shape of your eye. You should wait until your hormones are back to pre-pregnancy levels.
  • You cannot have a degenerative or autoimmune disease, as this would negatively affect healing.

LASIK risks and side effects

LASIK, like any surgery, has potential risks and complications that should be carefully considered. Since it was approved by the FDA in 1998, LASIK has become a very popular eyesight treatment and the overall complication rate is low. Infection and inflammation are possibilities, as with any surgical procedure, and in almost all cases, can be cleared up with medications.

Problems with the corneal flap after surgery sometimes make further treatment necessary, and there is a chance, though small, that vision will not be as good after the surgery as before, even with glasses or contacts.

Sometimes a second surgery, called a retreatment or enhancement, may be needed to achieve the desired vision correction. This is more likely for people who needed more intensive correction, especially those who were extremely nearsighted, extremely farsighted or had higher astigmatism before LASIK.

Though relatively rare, some people experience side effects after LASIK that usually disappear over time, including:

  • hazy or blurry vision
  • difficulty with night vision and/or driving at night
  • scratchiness, dryness and other symptoms of the condition called “dry eye”
  • glare, halos or starbursts around lights
  • light sensitivity
  • discomfort or pain
  • small pink or red patches on the white of the eye

If you are considering LASIK, please contact us

If you are thinking about having LASIK and would like to know more about the procedure, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health ophthalmology specialists. He/she will examine your eyes and together with you, determine if LASIK would be a successful vision correction procedure for you. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

By William B. Dieck, MD, FAAO, Medical Director of the Ophthalmology division and eye surgeon with Westchester Health, member of Westchester Health Physician Partners

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