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LASIK is a surgical procedure, used to correct focus issues that can lead to blurred vision. LASIK eye surgery is meant to help people who struggle to see clearly without the use of glasses or contacts.
LASIK is one of the safest and most effective surgical procedures available. LASIK has a 96% patient satisfaction rate. Current research indicates that LASIK has a 99% success rate in achieving 20/40 vision or better, and a 90% success rate in achieving 20/20 vision or better.
The risk of potential complications is quite low, and your doctor can help you to better understand the risks versus benefits.
What Is LASIK?
LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) is a form of refractive eye surgery that either uses a laser or blade to reshape your cornea so light refracts differently into your eye. This can partially or completely correct refractive errors, helping a patient to see more clearly.
Who Can Benefit From LASIK?
LASIK is a refractive surgery, meaning it can help correct refractive errors, such as these:
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Hyperopia (farsightedness)
It is approved by the FDA for people over 18 years old, although experts suggest 21 years old is a better minimum age, as a person’s vision is more likely to have stopped changing by that point. The pool of individuals who can benefit from LASIK is fairly large, although certain eye health conditions and other factors may exclude you from eligibility.
Success Rate of LASIK
LASIK has a notably high rate of success and patient satisfaction. Less than 5 percent of the time, additional corrective measures (such as contacts, glasses, or additional surgery) is needed to fully correct a person’s vision after their procedure.
However, even among that 5 percent of patients, many still see a significant improvement in their vision. Their vision might not have reached a level where they can perform activities such as driving or reading without additional corrective measures, but they still have overall improvements.
The rate of significant, long-lasting complications is somewhat harder to calculate, although it is small. Some experts place it at less than 1 percent. One small study suggested a rate of complications between 5 and 10 percent (and it wasn’t designed specifically to check the rate of patient complications either).
While all surgery carries risk, the FDA and other medical experts consider LASIK very safe.
Who Is Not Eligible for LASIK?
Certain individuals are not candidates for LASIK. For example, people whose corneas are thin or oddly shaped cannot always safely have the surgery performed. If your eyes have an unstable refractive error, where your level of visual acuity is shifting, you also cannot benefit from LASIK.
Patients with certain autoimmune conditions may not be candidate for LASIK. If a patient has dry eyes, that condition may need to be treated before they can be eligible for LASIK.
Generally speaking, a person needs to have stable, good eye health to benefit from LASIK. Even if you are not a candidate for LASIK, alternative procedures are often available to correct your vision. Some people who are not eligible for LASIK can have their vision corrected via photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) or other corrective surgeries.
LASIK: How It Works
You’ll first have a consultation with a LASIK surgeon to determine your eligibility for the procedure. They will inspect your eyes to see if you are a good candidate. This will involve a fairly noninvasive but thorough eye exam.
The doctor will take measurements of your cornea, assessing its thickness and mapping out its topography. These measurements will later be used to reshape your cornea during the procedure.
If your doctor believes you are a good candidate for LASIK vision correction, they will schedule you for surgery. LASIK is usually done at an outpatient surgery center or in an ophthalmologist's office.
LASIK doesn’t take very long — about 30 minutes, though most of this time is in prep and recovery. It is a straightforward outpatient procedure. You will need someone to drive you home following surgery.
The surgery itself is painless, as your eye will be numbed with medicated drops. A device is used to secure your eyes, so there is very little risk of you accidentally moving during the surgery.
Using a laser or blade, your doctor will cut a flap in your cornea. They will then reshape the cornea using precise measurements that correct your refractive error. The flap is then closed and put back into position.
At that point, the procedure is done. Your doctor will talk to you about the next steps to ensure a healthy recovery.
Recovery & Aftercare
LASIK recovery is usually a straightforward process. Talk to your doctor about common symptoms you may experience as your eye heals and the signs of common complications that warrant seeing a doctor if they occur.
You will also schedule a follow-up appointment to see your doctor 24 to 48 hours after your surgery. Your surgeon will check in to make sure your eyes are healing as intended.
Your doctor may have you use an eye shield for a couple of days to protect your eyes as they heal. The shield can ensure you don’t rub your eyes in your sleep or otherwise disturb the flap as it heals.
Many patients experience some itchiness and mild discomfort as the numbing drops used during their surgery wear off. This is normal, although you shouldn’t experience any severe pain. Call your surgeon promptly if you do.
You may also experience visual symptoms, such as starbursts or halos around lights, as your eyes heal. Tell your doctor if you experience these symptoms, but rest assured that these are usually temporary and resolve within a few months.
Some eye dryness is common during the LASIK recovery period. Your surgeon is likely to prescribe eye drops to help with this dryness. This is usually temporary, dissipating within about a month or two for most, but it may last longer for some people.
Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drops as a precaution during the first week of your recovery. These drops can reduce the risk of more serious complications.
You can return to normal activities the day following surgery. Most people return to work within a day or two, provided their job doesn’t involve strenuous physical activity. You can resume exercise within a few days, though it’s recommended you avoid swimming and saunas for two weeks.
Most patients are fully healed and reach their new level of uncorrected visual acuity within 6 to 12 months, often in much less time. Many experts place the average recovery time closer to 3 months.
Risks of LASIK
The risk of potential complications with LASIK is very low, and your doctor can help you to better understand the risks versus benefits. Although rare, those risks may include:
- Undercorrection or overcorrection, requiring another surgery.
- Poor vision at night.
- Reduced closeup vision, which could impact your ability to do crafts and other close work.
- Lack of the clear vision you expect with glasses or contacts.
The best way to protect yourself against any LASIK complications is to choose a reputable, experienced surgeon. Websites like MyVision.org provide a national database of LASIK surgeons, which can help youmake your choice.
In 2022, however, LASIK is one of the safest surgical options available. If you are looking to correct your vision permanently, then you can be comfortable knowing that you have a ~99% chance of successful surgery. With reputable doctors at a quality eye care clinic, the likelihood of a satisfactory procedure should be even higher.
LASIK Cost & Payment Options
LASIK is an elective procedure, meaning vision insurance usually doesn’t cover the cost. Some insurance plans offer LASIK discount partnerships, offering a specific percentage off the procedure cost if you choose a provider participating in their plan.
LASIK can cost between $1,000 and $4,000 per eye, with the average cost of LASIK in the U.S. being $2,632 per eye as of 2020. Be wary of any clinics that offer unreasonably low prices, as it can be a sign they are using dated equipment or have surgeons with little experience.
It is common for LASIK providers to offer patients payment plans to make the procedure more accessible. Some providers even offer no-interest loans for multiple years. These plans can make it much easier for the average person to pay for LASIK.
A flexible spending account (FSA) or a health savings account (HSA) can be used to cover the cost of LASIK. Using either of these accounts can save you some money on the total cost of LASIK. Here’s how they work:
FSA OverviewAn FSA allows you to set aside pre-tax money you can apply toward health care expenses. Essentially, money that goes into an FSA can only be used for certain types of expenses, and LASIK qualifies. This can sometimes result in significant savings.
An HSA is similar, but it is only available to people enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). These accounts allow a person to contribute to their plan over the course of the year, also avoiding taxes on the contributed funds.
The money in an HSA rolls over more easily into the next year compared to the funds in an FSA. Accumulating a large amount of money in your HSA over time can be very useful as you get older. HSA funds can be used for LASIK.
Is LASIK Worth It?
LASIK often frees people from the need to wear contacts or glasses. Over 90 percent of patients achieve 20/20 vision, and over 99 percent achieve 20/40 vision with LASIK, per a study in the Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery.
More than 96 percent of patients are satisfied with the results of LASIK. This is an unusually high rate of patient satisfaction for any procedure.
If you talk to your doctor about realistic expectations, are a good candidate for the procedure, and make sure to choose a reputable surgeon, you’ll likely be very satisfied with the results. Overall, LASIK is broadly considered a safe and medically valid way to correct refractive errors with low risk of complications.
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