Wavefront LASIK is sometimes called custom LASIK. It is a newer approach to LASIK, a procedure that uses guided lasers to reshape your cornea and improve your visual acuity.
Using a wavefront device, your eye surgeon can measure aberrations in your cornea’s shape and texture, and then customize the lasers to treat all these aspects of your cornea. This improves the clarity of your vision, your ability to see well at night, and your ability to see contrasting colors. It also reduces the side effects associated with traditional LASIK.
There are some downsides to wavefront, and one of the biggest ones is the cost. The wavefront device, your surgeon’s training on the technology, and the location of the clinic can all impact the cost of wavefront LASIK.
What Is Wavefront LASIK?
Laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is a simple, fast, and effective outpatient procedure that corrects refractive errors. These include nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (both hyperopia and presbyopia), and astigmatism.
Millions of people all over the world have undergone LASIK surgery, and 8 out of 10 people report that they no longer need glasses or contact lenses to see clearly since their vision improved to better than 20/40.
There are many benefits to LASIK surgery, with the leading benefit being convenience. Most people no longer need corrective wear for many years after undergoing this procedure.
However, traditional LASIK is not a great option for everyone. In fact, until recently, variations on the LASIK procedure were not often approved for people with high refractive errors or thin corneas. Thanks to advances in technology called wavefront, some newer approaches to LASIK can map higher-order aberrations in the cornea and customize the LASIK device to correct these specific issues per patient.
Wavefront’s Advantages and Disadvantages Over Traditional LASIK
Wavefront LASIK, or custom LASIK, uses wavefront technology to create a topological map of your individual cornea, which is then used to program the laser to individually correct errors on your specific cornea. Traditional LASIK typically does not do this. Instead, it uses the refractive error in your eyes, which is part of the prescription for glasses and contact lenses, to determine how to reshape your cornea. There are many advantages to this approach to LASIK, but it also has some disadvantages to consider.
- Personalized LASIK targeted to your type of cornea.
- More precise correction of refractive errors.
- Correction of other subtle distortions on the cornea.
- Fewer higher-order aberrations after wavefront LASIK.
- Lower rate of side effects, especially dry eye, itching, and night vision problems.
- Slightly higher rates of 20/20 vision after wavefront LASIK.
- Fewer problems with contrast sensitivity, or seeing black letters on a white background.
One of the greatest advantages of wavefront LASIK occurs for people with higher-order aberrations. Traditional LASIK typically exacerbates these aberrations, which do not impact clearer visual acuity but can become problematic with other vision needs, especially at night when the pupil is dilated. Many people with moderate or severe myopia, for example, who receive traditional LASIK experience problems with their night vision and have issues with bright lights in darkness. This side effect may go away, but it can take several months to heal, or it may become a permanent problem due to aberrations on the cornea.
With wavefront LASIK, these aberrations are adjusted at the same time as the shape of the cornea. Imperfections leading to halos or glares around bright lights and problems when the pupil is dilated, such as seeing well in low light, are less likely to occur.
Disadvantages of wavefront LASIK compared to traditional LASIK include:
- Corneal aberrations still occur with wavefront technology on about the same order as traditional LASIK.
- Changes needed to adjust all aberrations of the cornea could leave it too thin for later LASIK procedures, if needed.
- Neither traditional nor wavefront LASIK are covered by insurance for the most part, and wavefront will likely be more expensive.
- The wavefront procedure may take longer than traditional LASIK.
- Side effects like dry eye, hazy or blurry vision, undercorrections or overcorrections, infection, and inflammation are just as likely with wavefront as traditional LASIK.
- Other eye problems like glaucoma, cataracts, or health issues like diabetes or heart disease can increase the risk of side effects in both traditional and wavefront LASIK.
One of the major disadvantages to wavefront LASIK is the cost, which can vary a lot by geographical location and the type of wavefront technology used.
Who is a Candidate for Wavefront LASIK?
Almost everyone who qualifies for traditional LASIK can be a candidate for wavefront LASIK.
However, custom LASIK has strict and specific prequalification conditions that should be met. You may not be a qualify for wavefront LASIK if you have:
- Severe astigmatism
- Severe nearsightedness or myopia
- Small pupils
You can also be denied eligibility for wavefront LASIK because of calculations involving corneal thickness. Most laser eye surgeries ablate, or remove, a lot of cornea per treatment diopter, especially in wavefront LASIK. So, your surgeon may prefer traditional LASIK if the corneal depth is an issue of concern.
In addition, some people tend to regain better results with traditional LASIK than wavefront LASIK. It should not be surprising if a surgeon recommends traditional LASIK surgery at first.
Is the Cost of Wavefront LASIK Worth It?
First, geographical location can change the cost of wavefront LASIK and traditional LASIK. Larger cities have higher rents because the cost of living is greater, and this means that an eye surgeon will charge more in order to cover their base costs of operation. Undergoing this procedure in a larger city will typically cost more than in smaller cities or towns.
Second, the cost of the extra wavefront technology adds to the overall cost of the procedure. The cost of training to operate the device may come with an additional cost.
Finally, the experience and reputation of your eye surgeon can increase the cost. Doctors who have greater precision, higher rates of successful outcomes, and greater patient confidence typically charge more for their services. In this case, you can feel good that you are receiving the best possible treatment; however, don’t be afraid to evaluate the overall cost of wavefront versus traditional LASIK, and ask questions about individual costs of different parts of the procedure.
Wavefront LASIK costs more than traditional LASIK. If your eye surgeon opts for a combined wavefront and bladeless LASIK procedure, these costs can increase further. That said, while conventional LASIK surgery costs slightly above $2,000, custom LASIK costs between $4,000 and $6,000 for both eyes.
If you are a good candidate for traditional LASIK, it makes sense to opt for that approach instead. You may need to work with your ophthalmologist to determine if your cornea would be better served by traditional technology compared to wavefront. Ultimately, you’ll save the most money if you are more likely to have good outcomes after traditional LASIK.
It is important to work closely with your optometrist and/or ophthalmologist to determine which procedure may be right for you. In some instances, another refractive surgery like LASEK or PRK may make more sense to correct your vision.
LASIK Eye Surgery: Overview. (December 30, 2017). Mayo Clinic.
Q: How Does Wavefront LASIK Compare to Conventional LASIK? LASIK – FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). (July 11, 2018). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Alternative Refractive Surgery Procedures. (September 27, 2017). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Wavefront-Guided LASIK. American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).