The LASIK procedure and related surgeries were designed to correct refractive errors like farsightedness and nearsightedness. (Learn more) Millions of people have undergone LASIK in the past 20 years and had success restoring normal vision; however, in cases when the cornea is too misshapen, too thin, or continuing to change, LASIK may not lead to easier reading, whether on a computer screen or paper, for very long. (Learn more)
Age-related corneal changes are common, and LASIK does not prevent these. Other problems may lead to reading issues, including being a candidate for monovision LASIK, which can improve up-close focusing in one eye, but may not improve your ease of reading.
Eye strain is a common part of working on computers, smartphones, tablets, and e-readers more often these days, and LASIK will not prevent or reduce eye strain from specific devices (Learn more) On a long-term basis, this eye strain could make some conditions return as the cornea ages.
What Is LASIK?
LASIK is the most famous of several related procedures designed to treat refractive errors, or problems with the shape of the cornea that affect how light is refracted onto the retina. Refractive errors include the following:
- Nearsightedness or myopia
- Farsightedness or hyperopia
- Presbyopia, or farsightedness due to aging
Many people who have extreme versions of these refractive errors need corrective wear to help them read, whether it is a computer screen, tablet, e-reader, or printed material like a book, magazine, or newspaper. Extreme nearsightedness can make images past a certain distance blurry while farsightedness and astigmatism make focusing on items closer to the eyes difficult.
Often, when someone undergoes LASIK to correct these issues, they get better visual acuity and can therefore read more easily at most distances. However, as you age, your vision will change again, so you may still need reading glasses in the future. Additionally, some sensitivity to light or glare in the weeks or months after surgery may make dealing with bright screens like phones more difficult, but should not impact reading books or e-readers
Reasons LASIK May Not Improve Reading
There are some instances in which LASIK and related procedures will not completely correct reading issues. The problems can vary depending on if you are reading a screen, printed material, or something far away.
- Presbyopia: Even if you had LASIK recently, your eyes will change as you age. One result of this is farsightedness after age 40. Your cornea will naturally change shape as you age, and previous LASIK will not prevent this from happening. Although presbyopia can be treated with LASIK, you may not be able to get a second procedure if you’ve had one already because LASIK can make the cornea thinner, and a too-thin cornea will not produce good results after a LASIK procedure.However, if you are not yet in your 40s or older, then it is unlikely that you’ve developed presbyopia, so having your vision corrected with LASIK means you should be able to read at most distances. LASIK aims for normal vision, which is defined as between 20/20 and 20/40 —seeing clearly at 20 feet away, all the way to seeing objects 20 feet away as though they were 40 feet away for someone with normal vision or only slightly blurry vision.People who develop presbyopia may be recommended for monovision LASIK, where one eye is corrected for near vision while the other is left with age-related farsightedness because distances can still be managed. Your eyes will no longer work together, and this can take some adjustment time.
- Very poor eyesight: There are situations in which your vision needs to be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, and your eyes will not benefit significantly from LASIK. Since LASIK is designed to improve vision with refractive errors, if there are other reasons you have poor eyesight, the procedure will not change those issues. In cases like glaucoma, LASIK can even make the situation worse. Even if you have an extreme refractive error, LASIK may not improve your vision enough to be worthwhile.If you are a good candidate for LASIK, you may have a refractive error so severe that you will require a second procedure in a few months to enhance any undercorrection of the first. You may find that the vision correction is not enough for certain leisure activities, including reading a book. You may have to adjust the distance the book is from your eyes to see the words more clearly.
- Monovision: This procedure changes how the eyes work together. While it is more common for people with presbyopia, it may be considered in rare cases of other refractive errors too. This procedure means that one eye focuses differently than the other, which can lead to eye strain and may require glasses or contact lenses for visually-straining tasks, including working on the computer or reading a book. Common side effects from undergoing monovision LASIK include blurriness or fogginess in the distance, glares or halos around light sources, and trouble reading.
Screens Are a Leading Cause of Eye Strain
A study examining eye fatigue from three different types of reading devices — paper books, e-ink readers, and LCD-based e-readers — and found that brighter screens tended to increase eye strain in participants regardless of individual eye health. After LASIK, it may be easier to read from printed material that does not emit brightness than from computers, phones, tablets, or LCD-screen e-readers. This may not be related to the success of the surgery, as the eye strain likely occurred before the surgery.
If you are a good candidate for LASIK, your reading ability is likely to improve after surgery. If you have trouble focusing, this may be due to overcorrection, undercorrection, or a potential second problem.
Medical Devices: What Is LASIK? (July 11, 2017). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Why Has My Near Vision Gotten Worse After LASIK? (March 28, 2016). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
The Basics of LASIK Eye Surgery. (August 2012). Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Information.
Monovision LASIK. (November 28, 2017). EyeWiki: American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
E-Readers and Visual Fatigue. (December 27, 2013). PLoS One.