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Is LASIK safe?

lasik technology for safety

Whether you’re considering or already planning to undergo LASIK eye surgery, you’re undoubtedly wondering, “Is LASIK safe?” In fact, LASIK is among the safest elective surgeries you can get.

According to Drs. Vance Thompson and Eric D. Donnenfeld, two of the country’s leading refractive surgeons, LASIK is the safest and most extensively researched elective surgery in the world.

Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK for short) improves nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism by permanently changing the shape of the cornea.

By the end of 2020, it’s estimated that ~20 million people in the U.S. will have had LASIK since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1999. The American Refractive Surgery Council states that less than 1% of people who opt for LASIK experience long-term or unexpected problems from the surgery.

Like with any surgical procedure, there are possible risks, but serious complications from LASIK are extremely rare. Advances in laser technology and pre-procedure eye mapping and patient evaluation continue to make LASIK safer than ever.

LASIK success rate

LASIK safety and success rates go hand in hand, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. When talking about safety, the focus is on potential risks. Success rates, however, focus on patient satisfaction and expected outcomes.

An important set of studies conducted by the FDA, the National Eye Institute and the Department of Defense took an in-depth look at patient outcomes following LASIK. The results of the studies, published in JAMA Ophthalmology in 2017, were outstanding. Patient satisfaction with vision results and the surgery in general ranged from 96% to 99%.

The studies asked patients about their outcomes one month, three months and six months after surgery. Considering that it can take up to six months for vision to fully stabilize after LASIK, these are impressively high satisfaction rates.

Perhaps even more important are LASIK’s acuity outcomes (how clearly you can see  afterLASIK). According to the Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery, more than 90% of patients achieve 20/20 vision or better, and more than 99% achieve at least 20/40 vision.

The key to ensuring ideal results from LASIK is finding an experienced ophthalmologist who specializes in laser eye surgery. 

The best eye doctors go beyond just performing a comprehensive eye exam to make sure you are a good candidate for LASIK. They will spend plenty of time asking about your daily activities and overall health, as well as your desired outcome from LASIK, to help you decide if it’s right for you.

LASIK surgery pros and cons

If you are considering having LASIK, it’s important to weigh the benefits against any drawbacks or possible risks. It’s also important to have realistic expectations and understand the basics of how LASIK is performed.

What are the advantages?

  • Convenience — most people can significantly reduce or even end their reliance on glasses and contacts

  • Quick, comfortable procedure — LASIK only takes a few minutes per eye, and thanks to numbing eye drops, most people barely feel a thing

  • Fast recovery — most people can expect improved vision within a day and be back to driving within the first week

  • Long-term results — for most people, the improvement to their vision is permanent

What are the disadvantages?

  • Eligibility — some people may not meet all the criteria to be a candidate for LASIK

  • Acuity — not everyone will be able to achieve their ideal vision, and some may need a secondary LASIK enhancement procedure

  • Post-op vision fluctuations — most people have dry eyes and minor spells of blurry vision, halos and glare for three to six months as the eyes fully heal

  • Recovery period — there’s no real “downtime” with LASIK, but you’ll need to avoid certain things for a few weeks, such as bodies of water, eye makeup and heavy exercise

  • LASIK complications — less than 1% of patients experience complications during or after the surgery, but they can happen

Is LASIK being banned by the Food and Drug Administration? 

No, LASIK isn’t being banned. You may have read or heard about former FDA supervisor Morris Waxler, PhD, petitioning the FDA to withdraw their approval for LASIK devices. However, the FDA denied Waxler’s petitions and lists them as closed, with their final response on record in 2016. 

This kind of controversy in the media is eye raising, to say the least, and it’s understandable that it could cause concern for someone considering LASIK surgery. 

When considering any surgery, it’s important to understand all the potential risks and rewards. LASIK data shows that it’s a safe and effective treatment for refractive errors, but always feel free to raise any concerns with your eye care provider. 

Is LASIK worth it over 40?

As long as your eyes are healthy, having LASIK in your 40s — and beyond — can correct your nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism just as well as it does for younger people. However, if you have presbyopia, you’ll probably still need to wear reading glasses for close-up tasks.

Another option is to have a more complex version of LASIK that is performed specifically for presbyopia. Instead of just correcting vision errors at one distance, presbyLASIK procedures reshape the cornea to help with both near and far vision. It’s important to note that the improvements to near vision won’t be as long-lasting as with standard LASIK. While the changes to the cornea are permanent, presbyopia will continue to progress.

For many people in their 50s, 60s and up, LASIK is still a safe and effective option for improving vision. In some cases though, it can worsen existing eye problems, such as glaucoma and dry eye. In addition, it can make cataract surgery more difficult. Be sure to tell your laser vision surgeon if you are at risk for glaucoma or plan to have cataract surgery in the future.

SEE RELATED: Can I have cataract surgery after LASIK?

Is LASIK worth it?

With LASIK success rates and patient satisfaction as high as 99%, LASIK definitely appears to be worth it! But ultimately, whether or not it’s worth it for you is a very personal decision. 

Take as much time as you need to get comfortable with all the facts, and don’t hesitate to talk to your eye doctor about any questions you have.

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