LASIK surgery is considered to be a fairly low-risk and highly successful elective surgery. (Learn More) While complications are rare, they can happen.(
The American Refractive Surgery Council publishes that 90 percent of people who get LASIK are extremely satisfied with the procedure and end up with 20/20 vision. LASIK surgery can have some potential side effects, and certain factors or types of corrections may increase the odds for a negative complication. (Learn More)
Talk with your ophthalmologist before deciding if LASIK is right for you and to determine what the possible risks are. An initial assessment can help you discover if you are a candidate for LASIK.
It is important to take good care of your eyes following LASIK as most of the more serious complications, such as potential blindness, are likely to occur as the result of inadequate aftercare. (Learn More) LASIK procedures are continually improving and so are the success rates. (Learn More) Choosing the right surgeon and following the treatment protocol can greatly improve LASIK outcomes. (Learn More)
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Can You Go Blind From LASIK?
LASIK is a surgical procedure, and like any surgical or medical procedure, there are some risks involved. The American Refractive Surgery Council reports that there are no actual cases of blindness resulting directly from LASIK surgery, and the success rate is as high as 96 percent.
That being said, complications from surgery such as infections may result in a level of vision loss or blindness. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) publishes that legal blindness is when a person has 20/200 vision or worse. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that LASIK can cause vision loss in some people that cannot be corrected with additional surgery, glasses, or contact lenses. Despite the small presence of this risk, the success rate for LASIK is very high, and significant complications are rare.
The American Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery reports that LASIK surgery is one of the most successful and most common surgical procedures. While a LASIK procedure may, in very rare cases, cause a person to lose a few lines of vision on the vision chart, in all likelihood, it is not going to cause legal blindness. According to Consumer Reports, disabling vision loss is an extremely rare complication of LASIK, occurring less than 1 percent of the time. More common side effects from LASIK surgery involve temporary visual disturbances, such as starbursts or halos around lights or decreased night vision.
Complications of LASIK
Complications that arise from LASIK surgery are typically related to secondary issues and not from the surgery itself. For example, if proper aftercare procedures are not followed, infections can occur that may then lead to serious complications, including possible blindness. After LASIK, it is important to follow all instructions given by the surgeon to minimize the risk and improve healing time. Be sure to use the eye drops, try not to strain your eyes or rub them, and stick to the timeline given for returning to activities, such as swimming, contact sports, work, going out in the sun, and even watching TV or using your computer or smartphone.
Complications are also more likely to occur when LASIK is more invasive due to a more significant correction being made. For instance, if more of the cornea needs to be altered, the healing time is likely to be longer and the risk factors can go up.
LASIK is used to treat nearsightedness (myopia) most often, and it is also effective to help correct farsightedness (hyperopia) and to reshape corneas that are more oval than round (astigmatism). LASIK for astigmatism often requires more precision and potentially even more cutting, so the risks for this type of procedure may be higher than they are for less significant vision issues. Multiple LASIK procedures can increase the risk factors as well.
Minimizing the Side Effects of LASIK
Mayo Clinic reports that LASIK typically has the least amount of risk and highest reward when used to correct mild nearsightedness. When correcting more significant farsightedness, severe nearsightedness, or astigmatism, the chances of complications can go up, and success rates can be lower.
Your ophthalmologist is the best resource to help you decide if you are a good candidate for LASIK. They can go over the potential side effects and the rate of possible complications as well as the odds for success with you.
The following eligibility requirements are necessary to improve the outcome of LASIK and minimize potential complications:
- You must be at least 18 years old.
- Your corneas need to be thick enough to work with.
- Your pupils should not be overly large.
- Your eyes and prescription need to be stable for at least a year before surgery.
- You should be in good health and not have a condition that inhibits healing.
- You should not actively and regularly play contact sports.
Improving LASIK Procedures and Lowering the Risks
Over the years, changes have been made to LASIK surgical procedures, improving and enhancing them in order to increase their effectiveness and decrease the possible negative side effects and complications, such as possible vision loss or blindness. LASIK surgery creates a flap in the cornea. Then, tissue underneath can be permanently altered and reshaped by the laser. The initial flap used to be done with a surgical blade (and in some cases, it still is), but newer technology uses a femtosecond laser that can create thinner flaps and therefore is less invasive, has less room for error, and allows for a shorter healing time.
Decreased vision from a LASIK procedure was more common prior to newer technologies like the femtosecond laser. Thanks to more precise techniques, this effect is much rarer. LASIK technology continues to advance, and with it, safety ratings and success rates also improve.
What to Do if Blindness Does Occur
Blindness is an extremely rare direct complication from a LASIK procedure, especially if you listen to the recommendations of your ophthalmologist on whether or not the surgery is safe for you, and you take good care of your eyes after surgery. If blindness does occur, it is generally due to some other kind of complication such as infection.
When serious side effects, such as vision loss and blindness do occur as a direct result of a LASIK procedure, it is generally due to some form of medical malpractice. The surgeon may be using a blade and cut the flap incorrectly or program the laser to sculpt the cornea incorrectly. It is imperative to choose the right surgeon for the job — one who has experience, training, and the proper licensing to perform LASIK.
LASIK surgeons are required by law to report serious complications to the FDA, and there have been very few reports. Patients may seek financial retribution in the form of a lawsuit if blindness or serious side effects occur from negligence or medical malpractice during LASIK. The FDA publishes that nearly all (more 95 percent) of patients questioned after a LASIK procedure were satisfied with the results and their vision after the surgery.
What Is the LASIK Success Rate? (October 2017). American Refractive Surgery Council.
LASIK Complication Rate: The Latest Stats and Facts You Should Know. (October 2017). American Refractive Surgery Council.
Key Definitions of Statistical Terms. (August 2017). American Foundation for the Blind.
What Are the Risks and How Can I Find the Right Doctor for Me? (August 2018). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Lasik Eye Surgery. Will You Really Get Rid of Your Glasses? (February 2013). Consumer Reports.
LASIK Surgery: Is It Right for You? (March 2017). Mayo Clinic.
LASIK Technology Improvements Lead to Better Outcomes. (April 2014). Fox News.
LASIK Quality of Life Collaboration Project. (September 2018). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.