If you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, you probably wish you could be rid of them. After all, glasses and contacts are expensive; bothersome; and always getting dirty, scratched or lost. And if they break or tear, it’s a nuisance or, worse, unsafe.
Enter LASIK, for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis—a safe, proven surgical procedure that, in under one hour, permanently corrects nearsightedness or farsightedness to at least 20/40 in 98 percent of cases. Several million patients have already undergone LASIK, with just 2 percent reporting complications.
Many Americans have trouble seeing. LASIK corrects vision problems by firing an excimer (cold) laser onto the cornea. The laser vaporizes tiny amounts of tissue and changes the cornea’s shape so the eye can focus without glasses.
But LASIK has drawbacks and risks. The procedure can cost several thousand dollars—which your health insurance probably doesn’t cover. There’s no guarantee of 20/20 vision, and you’ll still need reading glasses afterward. Risks include under- or over-corrected vision (though a second operation usually repairs problems), infection, reduced night vision and, rarely, blindness.
Those whose eyes probably aren’t suitable for LASIK include:
- young adults whose eyes are still growing
- people with extremely bad vision
- people who are pregnant or have lupus, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, glaucoma or cataracts
- patients whose corneas are too thick or too thin
Still, odds are that after a thorough exam by a qualified surgeon, you’ll qualify for LASIK (see sidebar). If so, you’ll find the procedure surprisingly straightforward.
The operation takes about 30 minutes per eye. You’ll recline in a surgical chair and have your eye numbed with drops. Next, the surgeon places clamps on your eyelids to hold them open and fits a suction ring on the eyeball to lift and immobilize the cornea.
Then, using a microkeratome knife, the surgeon creates a paper-thin, hinged flap of corneal tissue, removes the suction ring and opens the flap. While you stare at a dot of bright light for about one minute, the computer-guided laser sculpts the exposed tissue, called stroma, reshaping your eye according to your prescription. Then the surgeon closes the flap to end the procedure.
Your postoperative therapy will probably involve:
- wearing an eye shield for a while
- using special drops
- going without makeup and face creams for at least two weeks
- refraining from sports, swimming or exercise for a week
- taking pain relievers as needed
- seeing your eye doctor often to ensure a full recovery
You may have blurry or hazy vision or see halos around lights while your eyes recover. These side effects should fade away after six months.