LASIK isn’t a cure all
LASIK has tempted me.
I’ve been nearsighted almost my entire life, and began wearing glasses when I was 5.
I would love to wake up in the morning and not have to fumble for my glasses, or worry about my lenses getting wet in the rain or fogging up when I come in from the cold.
I would love to say goodbye to irritating contact lenses, and the yearly expense of buying contact solution, lenses and eyeglasses. They’re expensive and I don’t have vision insurance.
But the truth is LASIK isn’t a cure all. About half of patients still have to wear glasses after the procedure. And LASIK doesn’t stop the normal aging of the eye (presbyopia) or the need for reading glasses.
Worse, I could be left with severely dry, irritated eyes (a common side effect) and be stuck taking expensive prescription eye drops for the rest of my life. Or I could end up with more significant vision problems than simple nearsightedness, such as night blindness, double vision, halos or glare. I could end up with constant eye pain.
Last week it was reported that a Detroit news anchor committed suicide, possibly because of complications of her LASIK surgery. What a tragedy.
A recent report in JAMA Ophthalmology came to the conclusion that there was a “… need for adequate counseling about the possibility of developing new symptoms after LASIK surgery.”
In other words, patients might not clearly understand what vision problems could develop after the procedure. And the number of patients experiencing problems may be significantly under reported.
Weigh the benefits and risks
Personally, I’ve never felt that the probable benefits of LASIK outweigh the potential risks.
Another person might look at the same information as me and make a different choice.
What’s important is to really understand what you are buying. LASIK is usually an elective procedure, so most insurance companies won’t pay for it. But because it’s SURGERY ON YOUR EYES you can’t get a refund if something goes wrong or if you don’t get the results you had hoped for.
If a friend or family member asked for my advice, I would point them in the direction of two resources for more information on LASIK. I would suggest they read carefully through the pros and cons of the procedure, and then make a list of questions to take to the eye surgeon.
Consumer Reports has a really comprehensive guide, I think, to LASIK surgery that includes:
- A tool to help you determine whether you’re likely to be satisfied based on the odds and your expectations.
- Detailed information from consumers who have had the surgery.
- A safety assessment of laser vision-correction surgery based on the latest evidence.
- A guide to choosing a surgeon, including key questions to ask and red flags that should prompt you to get a second opinion.
- What to expect before, during, and after the surgery.
- The costs of surgery, insurance coverage, and payment options.
The Mayo Clinic website also has an excellent overview of the procedure.
If you don’t feel the eye surgeon has answered your questions/concerns adequately, seek another opinion.
Although LASIK is a pretty common procedure now, you still only have one pair of eyes.
And as a former surgical nurse I can tell you this: surgeons want to do surgery. It’s what they are trained to do, and it’s their source of income. They want to do as much surgery as possible.
The burden is on us, the patients, to say “Wait a minute, I need more information.”
LASIK may be right for you. Just don’t make the decision casually. Be informed.
This post has been updated since its original publication in 2016.