Is Lasik safe? Yes, says Edward Manche, MD, a professor of ophthalmology and division chief of Cornea and Refractive Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. "The FDA has approved it and reaffirmed its safety," he says. "There are certainly patients who've had some problems, but the vast majority of people do extremely well."
LASIK, which stands for laser-assisted in situ keratomileuses, is a type of refractive surgery. The surgeon first cuts a thin flap of tissue from the front of the eye. Then, a laser burns away tissue to reshape the cornea so that light focuses better on the retina in the back of the eye. LASIK can correct vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.
In the 20 years since LASIK has been around, doctors in the U.S. have performed more than 19 million of these procedures. There haven't been many high-quality, long-term studies done on the outcomes, but the research that does exist finds the procedure to be safe and effective.
Better Vision Through Surgery
" LASIK is a really good procedure," "It's been able to change the lives of a lot of people, giving them excellent vision and letting them be free of their glasses or contact lenses."
More than 90% of people who have LASIK achieve 20/20 vision, meaning they can see from 20 feet away what a person with normal vision should be able to see at that distance, without glasses or contact lenses. More than 99% of people end up with 20/40 or better vision, which is clear enough to pass a driver's license exam.
Improvements in the procedure over the years have made LASIK even more effective. "The results have gotten steadily better and better over time as we've gotten more advanced technology," The femtosecond laser, introduced in 2001, uses pulses of light to cut a flap in the cornea. Femtosecond lasers have revolutionized the procedure, offering greater safety and precision than a blade.
Other advances in technology allow the creation of a customized map of the cornea, which allows for more precise vision correction and better outcomes. "The idea is to reduce higher-order aberrations, which can cause glare, halos at night, and things like that,"
The main side effects with LASIK are mild-- including dry eye, burning, and itching, which affects 20% to 40% of people who have the procedure. These symptoms usually peak around 3 months after the surgery and disappear within 5 to 12 months-- but not always.
Also common are glare and halos around lights at night, and difficulty with contrast. These problems affect about 20% of people who have LASIK. They also can improve over 5 to 12 months, but in a small number of people, they continue long-term. If you have one of these issues, you can go back to wearing glasses or contacts, or have revision surgery.
LASIK greatly improved her vision, despite some side effects.
There's also a small chance LASIK may not completely correct your vision, especially if you were very nearsighted or farsighted to start. If this happens, you'll need glasses or contacts to see clearly. "If you're not fully corrected ... you can return after 3 to 5 months and have additional surgery," "In those cases, the vast majority of patients do achieve 20/20 vision."
Your goal should be to consult an ophthalmologist who specializes in refractive surgery and who is able to provide all the different procedures available.
You can then discuss the pros and cons of each method with the doctor before making a decision.
Dr. Natasha Lim
director and consultant ophthalmologist
at the Dr. Natasha Lim Eye Centre
at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital