Is Corrective Eye Surgery for You?

| April 07, 2005

If you wear glasses as thick as soft drink bottles or have trouble seeing road signs until you are nearly past them, there may be an option you haven’t considered – corrective eye surgery. It works for many people, but it’s not foolproof.

Corrective surgery such as Lasik has helped thousands of people free themselves from their glasses. But it is not for everybody. And there are side effects. Full recovery can take anywhere from three days to three months, and often nothing below 20/40 eyesight is guaranteed.

So how do you decide what is best for you? Here is some information to help you make your decision.

What is Lasik?

Lasik is the most popular type of corrective eye surgery, with about 1.8 million procedures done in 2001. During the surgery the doctor uses a special instrument to cut back a razor-thin flap in your cornea. Then the cornea is reshaped with a laser. While Lasik is the most popular form of refractive surgery, there are actually three common types: Lasik, Lasek and PRK. Lasek differs from Lasik in that the top layer of cells on the cornea are treated with alcohol and rolled back, leaving the cornea to be treated by the laser. PRK, the least common, was the pioneer in refractive surgery in 1988. It uses a laser to reshape the cornea, but instead of removing a small flap, the outer layer is removed completely.

What happens after I have the surgery?

You will probably be able to do some light driving after a few days. Expect to be off of work at least a few days, if not more. Because your eyesight is so important to your safety on the road, you want to make sure that your eyes have healed and that you get your doctor’s OK first. Post-surgery symptoms include irritated, watery eyes that are sensitive to light. This may take up to a month to subside.

What are the risks?

Corrective surgery is never perfect. The surgery can overcorrect or undercorrect your eyesight, and follow-up procedures may be required. Night vision can be dramatically affected by such surgery, sometimes resulting in you seeing halos around streetlights and lightbulbs at night. “Truck drivers are dependent on their night vision, which is a red flag,” says Dr. Tyrie Lee Jenkins, Hawaii’s pioneer Lasik specialist. “Careful screening to find the best surgeon is key to preventing night vision problems.”

Other symptoms could include temporarily clouded vision, double vision or a new astigmatism. Your corrected eyesight would most likely start to weaken about a year after your surgery, so you could have to eventually wear contacts or glasses again. If you are over 40, you would probably need reading glasses eventually, even if you have the surgery, because the eye ages.

How long does the procedure take?

It usually takes about 20 minutes to correct both eyes, but expect the office visit to last from an hour to two hours.

What does it cost?

While there have been Lasik “bargains” as low as $499, the average is around $2,500 an eye performed by an experienced doctor. Because this is your eyesight you’re dealing with, you probably don’t want to take the cheap route on this one. Check with your health insurance provider to see if anything might be covered.

How do I find the right surgeon?

It is extremely important that you find the right doctor and ask the right questions. You can look up doctors in your local phone book or visit a website such as www.locateanisrsdoctor.com. Keep in mind this is just one source and it is a site run by the International Society of Refractive Surgery. Ask your personal doctor for help. Before you make a decision on a doctor, make sure to find out how long the doctor has been doing Lasik and what his/her complication rate is (about 1 percent is normal).

Am I eligible for Lasik?

Lasik isn’t for everyone. If you are active in sports, have changed your eye prescription recently or are under 18, you are generally not a good candidate for refractive surgery. Also, be sure to check with your employer to see if there are any restrictions on corrective surgery. Some companies prohibit employees from undergoing surgery due to safety concerns.

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