Being Smart about Corrective Vision Surgery
Corrective vision surgery, usually called LASIK after the procedure that’s most common, has become hugely popular. But that doesn’t mean you should ever be casual about the operation itself. Never forget—there are risks to LASIK surgery. There are steps you need to take to keep your risk of complications as low as possible.
Investigate your doctor’s qualifications. Find out how many procedures your doctor has performed. (Don’t be shy about asking directly.) Also ask whether the laser your doctor uses is FDA-approved.
Don’t stick with a doctor who tries to rush your decision. Good doctors will take the time to answer your questions. They want you to feel comfortable about the procedure and confident of their abilities. Many of them also give you the opportunity to see the operating room before you have the surgery, which can make you feel more at ease the day you have the procedure. And don’t let any doctor try to talk you into having the surgery if you have any conditions that make LASIK too risky for you, such as:
- Autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.
- Medications, such as steroids, that can prevent healing
- High or low refractive error (meaning that your vision requires an extremely strong prescription or that you only need to wear your glasses or contacts some of the time)
- A change in your prescription in the last year
- Pupils that are extra large in dim conditions
- Thin corneas
Follow pre- and post-op instructions. Don’t fudge with these. Following the instructions is an important part of keeping your risk of complications low. Make sure you know what trouble signs to look for, when to call your doctor, etc.
Don’t let cost be your deciding factor. These are your eyes. Don’t have the surgery done far away from home just because the price is lower. You’re less likely to go for follow-up appointments when your doctor is hours away. And if you find a place that does the surgery for an extremely low price, make sure it’s a legitimate organization. Ask about experience levels of the doctors, equipment, results, etc. If you feel any concern at all, it’s probably a good idea to go somewhere else, even if you have to wait a little longer and save some more money.
What are the possible complications?
In most cases, LASIK is highly safe and effective. Most people are extremely pleased with the results of their surgery. You don’t often hear about the complications, but they do exist:
- Visual symptoms: glares, halos, starbursts and difficulty driving at night.
- Contrast sensitivity: your vision may be reduced in dim conditions
- Pain: most people report very little pain after the surgery, but there have been cases in which patients have felt fairly strong pain for days or weeks
- Continued need for glasses: some people may still need glasses for reading
- Blindness: it’s rare, but you can’t completely rule out the possibility
And don’t forget—since LASIK is a relatively new procedure, nobody knows for sure exactly how long the results will last. Repeat procedures may be necessary to maintain the same quality vision.
For more information about LASIK, visit the Food and Drug Administration’s Frequently Asked Questions page.
The Food and Drug Administration; F. Armstrong. Beyond Glasses. UC Books, Pacific Grove, California, 1998.