Yara Zakharia, Esq.
With the advent of Lasik eye surgery, Americans with prescriptions for contact lenses or eyeglasses are no longer condemned to wear corrective eyewear for life. In fact, more than 90 percent of individuals who undergo laser eye surgery are liberated from the expense and inconvenience of contact lenses and glasses.
Not only do Lasik surgery patients no longer need to concern themselves with misplaced contacts or the purchase of a new pair of pricey eyeglasses to accommodate changing refractive needs, they stand to benefit in a multitude of ways including the following:
- A dramatically enhanced vision immediately following the Lasik procedure and for many, 20/20 vision shortly thereafter
- An opportunity to enjoy and/or participate in a wider array of recreational and social activities such as cycling and swimming, as well as career options such as aviation and law enforcement
Strides in Lasik technology and greater experience with it have significantly improved the predictability and outcomes of this type of corrective eye surgery in recent years. In the outpatient procedure known as Lasik, which stands for Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis, an excimer laser is applied to the cornea- the transparent film that arcs over the pupil- in order to correct errors of refraction or the manner in which the eye refracts or bends light.
Am I a Candidate?
Lasik eye surgery is intended for individuals with hyperopia (farsightedness), myopia (nearsightedness), or astigmatism (the disruption in the focus of distant and near vision). As a general rule, the following conditions disqualify individuals from this type of eye surgery:
- Major illnesses, chronic illnesses, and immune system diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and HIV as these may impair a patient's post-surgical healing
- Extra large pupils
- Blepharitis or excessively dry eyes
- Thin corneas
Prior to the procedure, the Lasik doctor gathers in detail the patient's medical history and performs a thorough exam by measuring the latter's cornea to assess its shape and any existing irregularities. Wavefront-guided Lasik, a cutting-edge version of Lasik which creates a detailed map of the patient's eye, enables the ophthalmologist to improve the surgery's outcome by measuring with precision variations in the eye.
Patients should not wear contacts in the weeks preceding the Lasik surgery. Before and on the day of the procedure, which typically lasts less than 30 minutes, they should not wear any eye makeup. Patients can expect the surgery to proceed as follows:
- The Lasik doctor first numbs the patient's eye with anesthetic eye drops, which serve to minimize any resulting discomfort.
- With a blade called a microkeratome or a laser, the surgeon creates a thin flap in the stroma or middle portion of the cornea.
- The Lasik doctor then folds the flap back in order to access the corneal tissue that needs sculpting or adjustment.
- A computer-programmed laser then vaporizes and removes a small quantity of tissue from the cornea. The amount and area of the cornea that is targeted for removal depends on the type of visual correction needed.
- The surgeon then folds the flap into place, without needing to stitch it due to the fact that this tissue heals naturally.
- To protect the eye, the Lasik doctor places a shield over the patient's eye, which he or she is required to wear until the eye heals.
- At the first post-operative consultation, the physician removes the shield, tests the patient's vision, and examines his or her eye.
Potential Side Effects
Friends or relatives may drive the patient home just 30 minutes after the procedure. Discomfort is minimal and typically dissipates within a few hours. Common side effects may include the following:
- Glare at night
- Halo effect
- Burning, watery, or itchy eyes
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
Since the cornea heals rapidly, patients notice a considerable improvement in their eyesight in 3 to 5 days following the surgery. Most individuals can resume daily activities in one to three days. It is recommended that patients monitor their progress with periodic visits to their Lasik doctor.
Because Lasik surgery is an elective procedure, most insurance providers do not provide coverage. Nevertheless, the Lasik procedure is available at a very affordable price. The cost of this popular vision correction surgery varies from one practitioner or center to the next and depends on a host of factors such as the degree of refractive error.
Finding a Qualified Surgeon
When shopping for the right Lasik eye surgeon, prospective patients should consider whether the physician:
- Is experienced
- Encourages follow-up
- Utilizes FDA-approved equipment
- Is attentive to their concerns and questions
- Is someone with whom they feel comfortable
[page updated December 2008]