Laser eye surgery—known colloquially as LASIK, after the most popular brand name associated with the surgery—is rapidly becoming the world's most popular elective procedure. More than 600,000 laser eye surgery procedures are performed annually in the U.S., and more than 90% of surgery recipients get the result they wanted. Promises of avoiding eyeglasses forever and attaining vision that's better than 20/20 are enough to draw the attention of even the most skeptical consumers. If you're considering laser eye surgery, here's what you need to know.
How Does LASIK Work?
Laser eye surgery takes between 15 and 30 minutes for each eye. You'll be awake, but both eyes will be numb. You might also receive a tranquilizer or twilight anesthesia, depending upon your doctor's policies and the extent of your anxiety. Tiny lasers will slowly reshape your eye, and though you might feel some pressure, you should feel no pain.
The lasers subtly reshape your eye. This might sound frightening, but most vision problems are caused by a slightly misshapen cornea. Though laser eye surgery can fix most issues associated with a misshapen cornea, certain health issues make surgery more dangerous. Tell your doctor about any and all symptoms and medical diagnoses you have, especially if these issues affect your eyes.
After the surgery, your eyes might feel numb or sting for several hours, and they may water more frequently than usual. Within 12 hours of the surgery, you should have functional vision, though your sight may be blurry. Your vision will steadily improve over time, and it can take as long as three months to see the full results of your surgery. Expect follow-ups with your doctor at the one-day, one-week, and one-month mark.
Benefits of Laser Eye Surgery
The most obvious benefit of laser eye surgery is that you will no longer have to wear glasses or corrective contact lenses. Additional benefits include:
- Laser eye surgery will save you money in the long run on eye doctor appointments as well as buying glasses and contact lenses and accessories
- You don’t have to worry about losing or breaking your glasses or running out of contact lenses
- Makes it easier to see when doing physical activity, which may cause glasses to fall off or contact lenses to pop out.
- Eliminates risks associated with wearing contact lenses for too long, good for people who tend to fall asleep without removing their contacts.
- Some recipients report improvements in mental health, too. Those benefits include improved self-esteem and a reduction in anxiety about performing sight-intensive tasks, such as driving.
Risks of Laser Eye Surgery
The most common risk of laser eye surgery is that surgery fails to correct your vision. If this happens, your doctor may recommend subsequent surgery to address the issue; this is called refinement surgery. Some other common issues include:
- Relapse; this happens when your vision returns to its pre-surgical status. This is especially common during pregnancy.
- Blurred vision, or changes in nighttime vision.
- Changes in vision that necessitate the use of reading glasses; a significant portion of laser eye surgery recipients will require reading glasses.
- Eye infections
- Dry eyes
- Very rarely, the loss of vision. This can happen if the laser removes too many corneal cells, or if a surgical infection destroys your cornea.