Yara Zakharia, Esq.
Tired of squinting at the television set or newspaper, losing your $500 pair of designer eyeglasses, seeing blurry after taking off your spectacles or contact lenses, paying for an annual eye exam, and purchasing stronger prescriptions? A breakthrough elective procedure that was perfected in the 21st century has made it possible for Americans to substantially reduce or eliminate their dependency on contact lenses or glasses. Also referred to as refractive surgery or corrective laser eye surgery, laser eye surgery is a highly-effective and popular procedure that aims at enhancing the eye's focusing power and restoring 20/20 vision.
Laser eye surgery involves the application of a computer-guided laser to the cornea, the transparent layer that covers the iris, which is the colored portion of the eye surrounding the pupil. Most of the human eye's focusing power can be attributed to the cornea. To enable the eye to capture images by focusing light properly, the laser reshapes the cornea by decreasing its thickness.
Types of Laser Eye Surgery
The most common methods of laser vision correction in the United States are Lasik (laser-assisted in situ Keratomileusis) and PRK (photo-refractive keratectomy). These two types of laser eye surgery are intended for eye defects such as hyperopia (eye with a long shape), myopia (eye with a short shape) and astigmatism (eye with a distorted shape). The most utilized vision correction method for nearsightedness or myopia by physicians in the U.S. is Lasik eye surgery.
PRK Eye SurgeryThe Food & Drug Administration approved PRK
in the mid-nineties, prior to Lasik. In PRK, the outer surface of the cornea is removed so that underlying layers may be accessed by the surgeon. This procedure is recommended for individuals whose pupil is too prominent to undergo Lasik or whose cornea is not thick enough for the Lasik technique, which consists of cutting a flap in the cornea. The PRK procedure is completed in a matter of minutes; however, it takes a little longer for the patient's vision to improve and for the healing to take its course than it does with laser due to the fact that the external layer must grow back.
Pursuant to the FDA's regulations, only professionals trained in calibrating and operating the laser and performing laser refractive surgery may practice in the field of vision correction. In the past decade and a half, more than 5 million North Americans have undergone Lasik, now considered the leading form of corrective eye surgery.
Pre Surgery Consultation
A special laser targets with precision and removes corneal tissue for purposes of reshaping the cornea and altering its focusing strength. The first step that a prospective eye surgery patient must undertake is a thorough baseline or initial evaluation by an ophthalmologist, who will perform diagnostic tests on the former. This is done to assess whether or not the individual would make a good candidate for Lasik. Some temporary or permanent disqualifying factors for laser eye surgery include the following:
- Autoimmune illnesses
- Cardiac problems
- Corneal scars
- Eye diseases
- Eye injuries
- Prior eye surgeries
- Use of prescription medication
Am I a Candidate?
Lasik cannot be performed on children because their eyes have not fully developed. Adults in poor health are ineligible since the procedure can raise the likelihood of complications. The ophthalmologist must:
- Explain the procedure to individuals contemplating Lasik
- Inform them of the benefits and risks associated with it, as well as alternative treatments
- Tell them what to expect prior, during, and after the procedure
Since the eye and cornea are anesthetized, the patient experiences hardly any discomfort during the surgery, which usually lasts between 15 and 40 minutes depending on the level of correction needed.
Finding a Qualified Ophthalmologist
Prospective corrective eye surgery patients should select a qualified ophthalmologist and not hesitate to verify the latter's credentials and request a list of his or her prior patients. Many laser eye surgery clinics or centers offer 0% financing, $0 down programs and accommodate their clients with flexible payment plans. Compared to the cost of eyeglasses over time, laser eye surgery has proven to be much more economical and has risen in popularity in the last few years.
[page updated December 2008]