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Laser eye surgery on the rise due to COVID-19

woman annoyed with foggy glasses caused by mask wearing considering LASIK

Have you tried washing your lenses with soapy water or taping your mask to your face to stop your glasses from fogging up during the pandemic? Many glasses wearers have gotten fed up with this issue and turned to laser eye surgery.

Eye surgery centers are seeing a boom in vision correction procedures ever since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first recommended wearing a mask in April 2020. Many states and cities mandate masks, and they’re now required on public transportation to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

Some laser eye surgery centers have reported an increase in demand of 50% or more for laser vision correction surgery such as LASIK and PRK. “We’ve seen a huge increase — about 45%,” says Gregory Parkhurst, MD, of Parkhurst NuVision, a San Antonio, Texas, eye surgery center.

And the foggy glasses problem is one of the top reasons many patients are seeking vision correction surgery right now, says Yuna Rapoport, MD, director of Manhattan Eye, a New York laser eye surgery center that has seen a 20% increase in demand.

“The fogged glasses are a big nuisance,” Dr. Rapoport says.

Why COVID-19 is increasing eye surgery

Higher demand for laser eye surgery during the pandemic may be driven by more than just the issue of masks fogging up glasses. Other factors that may be at play include:

  • Contact lens fatigue – Many contact lens wearers want to heed the warning “don’t touch your face” to prevent the spread of the virus, and they may not like having to touch their eyes several times a day. Chronic contact lens wear combined with more screen time during the pandemic also contributes to eye dryness and discomfort, increasing the desire to get rid of contacts, Dr. Rapoport says.

  • Time for recovery – Patients working remotely may have more flexibility to take time off to recover from laser eye surgery. “Work schedules are more flexible now with working from home, and patients have time during business hours to take care of personal business,” Dr. Parkurst says. He adds: “And with limited socializing, people just have more time to think about and act on vision correction.”

  • Extra funds – Some patients have found that delaying vacations and skipping restaurant outings has freed up some disposable income, while others may be putting their U.S. government stimulus payments toward laser eye surgery. 

Interest in self care has skyrocketed as consumers prioritize personal health and wellbeing in response to a situation that feels out of their control, according to the Refractive Surgery Council, which documented a 16% year-over-year increase in laser eye surgery in the fourth quarter of 2020. 

People are focusing more on “what is important in life” as a result of the pandemic, says Robert Maloney, MD, of Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute in Los Angeles, California, which has seen a 30% increase in laser eye surgery during the pandemic. 

“Laser eye surgery typically declines in a recession, but this pandemic is different,” Dr. Maloney says.

LEARN MORE about the cost of LASIK and when insurance might cover LASIK, according to the American Refractive Surgery Council.

Tired of masks fogging up your glasses? LASIK may be the answer

Masks fog up glasses because moist, warm air escapes from the top of the mask when you breathe. This can make it difficult to see clearly, which is a big problem for glasses wearers right now.

Making sure the mask fits well and has a nose wire may help, but it doesn’t always solve the problem. Other common tips on avoiding foggy glasses when wearing a mask include:

  • Washing glasses with dish soap – Use a drop of dish soap and warm water to wash your glasses. Then air dry and wipe with a microfiber cloth. This helps reduce fogging by decreasing the surface tension on the lenses.

  • Applying tape to your nose – You may also want to try using double sided tape to seal up any gaps between the bridge of your nose and your mask to reduce the amount of breath that escapes.

  • Considering anti-fog lenses – If you need a new pair of glasses, you may want to ask your eye doctor about getting an anti-fog coating on your lenses.

Finding the right solution may require some trial and error. Some glasses wearers have gotten tired of dealing with foggy glasses and have opted for laser eye surgery.

“People are definitely trying all of these suggestions,” Dr. Parkhurst says. “Some work for a little while, but they aren’t a long-term solution.”

LASIK, reading glasses and the pandemic

Patients in the 40-plus age group who are considering laser eye surgery to get rid of foggy glasses may also need to think about the issue of reading glasses

People in this age group have (or will soon develop) presbyopia, a condition that makes it more difficult for the eyes to focus on nearby objects like a book or screen. If you have presbyopia, you may need reading glasses for up-close tasks. If you already had glasses, your doctor may have prescribed progressive lenses or bifocals to allow you to see well at varying distances.

Patients with presbyopia may want to ask about LASIK for presbyopia. There are different laser eye surgery techniques that allow the surgeon to correct for distance vision and presbyopia. For example, Dr. Parkhurst points to blended vision, a laser vision technique that addresses the full range of vision from near to far. There are also intraocular lenses (IOLs), which are medical devices implanted in the eye to replace the natural lens in a patient with cataracts. 

“That demographic of patients — people dealing with presbyopia — is one of the segments where we’ve seen the most growth,” Dr. Parkhurst says.

LASIK results: What if you still need glasses?

If you’re considering getting laser eye surgery mainly to get rid of your glasses, it’s important to consider typical laser eye surgery results.

So what is the LASIK success rate? About 90% of patients achieve 20/20 vision, and 99% end up with better than 20/40 vision, according to statistics on LASIK from the American Refractive Surgery Council.

A very small percentage of patients may need to wear a lower prescription of glasses after surgery. You should also know that laser eye surgery may make it harder to wear contact lenses due to changes in the surface of the cornea.

In addition to considering the success rate, it’s important to talk with your eye doctor about the risks and complications of LASIK and other types of laser eye surgery. Some patients, such as those with thin corneas or dry eyes, may not be candidates for surgery.

RELATED READING: LASIK: Safety, success rates and benefits

Is it safe to get LASIK during the pandemic?

If you’re considering getting LASIK or PRK during the COVID-19 pandemic to get rid of the problem of foggy glasses with masks, you may wonder about pandemic safety.

Some elective procedures have been canceled in parts of the country at different times throughout the pandemic, but eye surgeons generally are taking COVID-19 precautions. It may be a good idea to call the eye surgeon you’re considering and ask about the safety protocols they’ve put in place.

Eye surgeons may be taking precautions such as:

  • Pre-screening patients with questions about COVID-19 exposure and symptoms.

  • Cleaning surfaces thoroughly between patients.

  • Taking patients’ temperatures when they arrive for surgery.

  • Requiring masks for the patients, surgeons and staff.

  • Having the patients apply hand sanitizer before entering the building.

“Elective surgery is very safe,” Dr. Maloney says. “Doctors and staff are now vaccinated, and everyone is wearing high-quality masks.”

SEE RELATED: Should you have cataract surgery amidst COVID-19 concerns?

Talk to your eye doctor about laser eye surgery

It’s important to visit your eye doctor for regular comprehensive eye exams. If you’re considering laser eye surgery, your eye doctor will be able to tell you if you may be a good candidate. They’ll also be able to answer your questions about the procedure, including LASIK safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of LASIK.

If your eye doctor does not perform laser eye surgery, they can make a referral to a qualified eye surgeon and give you advice on choosing the right eye surgeon.

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