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Is LASIK Safe? Eye Surgery Risks & Benefits

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Is LASIK safe? It’s a question many people ask before participating in laser eye surgery. The answer is a resounding yes. 

Vision correction surgery is FDA-approved, and research suggests that the surgery is both safe and effective. Lasting complications are rare, especially in patients who take precautions both before and after the procedure.

Is LASIK Eye Surgery Safe?

More than 1 million LASIK eye surgery procedures have been performed in America, and the current complication rate is well less than 1%.[1] LASIK surgery is very safe. 

LASIK patients use the procedure to reduce their reliance on glasses or contact lenses. Common vision issues addressed by surgery include nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.

Safety-Related LASIK Statistics

LASIK safety has been proven in studies conducted over decades. The newer the research, the better the statistics and success rate. 

These LASIK outcomes studies can help you make an informed choice:

  • In 2021, researchers estimated that 10 to 15 million people were treated with LASIK since its approval 25 years prior. Of them, 99.5% get vision that’s 20/40 or better, and up to 95% get 20/20 or better vision.[2]
  • In a 2020 study of people with thin corneas (who are typically poor LASIK candidates), 78% had 20/20 vision after surgery, and 95% had 20/25 vision.[3]
  • In a 2019 study, researchers determined that LASIK was safe, effective, stable, and accurate in nearsighted people with astigmatism.[4] 
  • Contact lenses cause three times more cases of microbial keratitis (eye infections) each year than LASIK eye surgery.[1]

Study after study shows LASIK is safe for most approved patients that want to reduce their use of glasses or contact lenses. Schedule a free LASIK consultation to learn more. 

Is LASIK FDA Approved? 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved LASIK in 1999.[2] The FDA is involved in laser vision correction due to the medical devices that complete the elective procedure. 

In the United States, the FDA regulates the sale of laser devices used for LASIK surgical procedures. Companies must prove that the tools they sell are reasonably safe and effective.[5]

The FDA’s threshold for safety is less than 5%.[1] Approved tools must meet at least this standard before they can be used within the United States. But published studies show that most LASIK surgeries are far more successful than this standard, giving the procedure a very high success rate. 

Is LASIK Dangerous?

LASIK is not dangerous. Eye surgeons with extensive experience in laser vision correction procedures are perfectly capable of performing a safe and effective surgery. And newer LASIK tools make the procedure even less risky. 

LASIK technology was first developed by NASA.[1] Since then, researchers and manufacturers have looked for ways to make the tools even safer and more effective to reduce any risk of complications. 

Researchers say newer LASIK tools, such as excimer lasers with wavefront platforms, offer improvements in safety, efficacy, and accuracy. In studies involving older equipment, 32% of patients had outcomes of 20/20 or better. In studies with newer tools, 68% of people get this score.[6]

What Are the Risks & Complications of LASIK Surgery?

LASIK risks and complications are rare. Some people experience side effects during the healing process that last a few weeks after laser eye surgery. But very few people experience long-lasting side effects due to their refractive surgery. 

Potential LASIK Side effects

Some patients report LASIK side effects (such as blurry vision and halos and glare) as their eyes heal from surgery. Following your doctor’s instructions and treatment plan can help to mitigate the potential risks and discomfort during your recovery. 

Potential LASIK side effects include the following:[7]

  • Dry eyes
  • Glare
  • Halos
  • Ghosting 
  • Starbursts 

Potential LASIK Complications 

True LASIK complications are rare, taking hold in less than 1% of cases.[7] Many patients experience dry eyes and other mild symptoms during the healing process, but these symptoms typically resolve quickly. But true complications, like corneal flap problems, are uncommon. The low LASIK complication rate should make you feel more comfortable with getting surgery. 

Potential LASIK complications include the following:[8]

  • Overcorrection or undercorrection
  • Visual aberrations
  • Eye flap problems 
  • Dry eye 
  • Keratitis 
  • Ectasia 

What You Can Do to Improve the Safety of Your LASIK Procedure

LASIK surgery is a safe procedure to improve vision if you’re a good candidate and choose an experienced eye surgeon.

Take these steps when searching for the right surgical partner:

  • Choose your doctor wisely. Visit several LASIK surgeons and try to find the best LASIK eye surgery provider you can. 
  • Opt for a safe clinic. Find a facility that is reputable and features up-to-date machinery and practices.
  • Prepare for testing. Your doctor should assess your tear production, corneal thickness, and more to ensure that you’re a good candidate for surgery. 

After your surgical procedure, your doctor will offer instructions to help your eyes heal. Follow your LASIK post-op care instructions carefully. Use medications as directed by your doctor, and don’t skip your checkup appointments. If you experience discomfort, your doctor can help you recover. 

LASIK Safety FAQs

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about LASIK safety.

What if I move during LASIK surgery?

It’s best to stay very still while your doctor works, but movements won’t hurt you. Lasers are programmed to turn off if you move, and the chair you’re sitting in will keep your head still.

Is LASIK safe over the long term?

Yes, LASIK is safe. While some people experience short-term discomfort (such as dry eyes or itching) while their eyes heal, few people develop long-term complications that persist and alter their vision.

Who should not get LASIK?

Your doctor will perform a detailed LASIK exam to ensure you’re a good candidate. Very thin corneas, poor tear production, or eye health issues (like glaucoma) could make LASIK a bad choice for you. If LASIK isn’t right for you, another type of refractive surgery may be appropriate.

At what age is LASIK not recommended?

The lower age limit for LASIK is 18 years old, but there is no upper range. A non-changing prescription is critical regardless of your age.

Who is a good candidate for LASIK?

People older than 18, in good health, with a stable eye prescription could benefit from refractive procedures like LASIK. Your doctor will perform a detailed exam before your surgery to ensure you’re a good candidate for LASIK. Things like thin corneas or large pupils could disqualify you.

How long after LASIK can I wear makeup?

As part of your post-operative care, your doctor will tell you to avoid makeup after LASIK for one to two weeks. Putting products like makeup on your eye could lead to infections. And some types of makeup require a lot of (painful) scrubbing to remove. Stay safe by avoiding it altogether for the specified time frame.

How soon after LASIK can I drive?

Most people can return to normal activities, including driving, within about a day of surgery.[9] But your healing time can vary.

Don’t drive until your doctor says it’s safe for you to do so. If your vision is still blurred from surgery, you could harm yourself or someone else in an accident.

References

  1. Is LASIK safe? What you need to know. Refractive Surgery Council. Published October 13, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023. https://americanrefractivesurgerycouncil.org/is-lasik-safe/
  2. Joffe SN. The 25th anniversary of laser vision correction in the United States. Clin Ophthalmol. 2021;15:1163-1172. Published 2021 Mar 17. https://doi.org/10.2147/OPTH.S299752
  3. Valdez-Garcia J, Hernandez-Camarena J, Loya-Garcia D, Lopez-Montemayor P, Ortiz-Morales G, Merayo-Lloves J. Safety and efficacy of myopic LASIK performed on thin corneas. The Open Ophthalmology Journal. 2020;14:33-38. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2174/1874364102014010033 
  4. Moshirfar M, Somani A, Motlagh M, Vaidyanathan U, Sumison J, Barnes J, Ronquillo Y. Comparison of FDA-reported visual and refractive outcomes of the toric ICL lens, SMILE, and topography-guided LASIK for the correction of myopia and myopic astigmatism. Journal of Refractive Surgery. 2019;35(11):699–706. https://doi.org/10.3928/1081597X-20190930-01
  5. LASIK: FDA’s role. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published January 18, 2018. Accessed September 11, 2023. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/lasik/lasik-fdas-role
  6. Moshirfar, M., Megerdichian, A., West, W.B. et al. Comparison of visual outcome after hyperopic LASIK using a wavefront-optimized platform versus other excimer lasers in the past two decades. Ophthalmol Ther 10, 547–563 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40123-021-00346-1
  7. LASIK complications and LASIK eye surgery risks. Refractive Surgery Council. Published October 13, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023. https://americanrefractivesurgerycouncil.org/lasik-complication-rate-side-effects/
  8. Shafer, B. LASIK complications. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published January 8, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023. https://eyewiki.aao.org/LASIK_Complications 
  9. Boyd, K. Laser surgery recovery. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Published May 25, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/treatments/laser-surgery-recovery

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