LASIK, aka laser eye surgery, has become a popular option for many people who are ready to get rid of their glasses or contact lenses for good, but the big question is: Is it right for you? After all, LASIK is still surgery and it comes with some risks. The good news is LASIK eye surgery has a high success rate and many people say it’s made an improvement to their lifestyle.
We spoke with a couple of ophthalmologists to discuss who LASIK is best for, what you can expect and its pros and cons.
What is laser eye surgery?
LASIK has been around for many years and was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in in 1999. The 10-minute procedure is considered an elective surgery, which means insurance doesn’t cover it (more on that later).
“LASIK involves using a laser to create a corneal flap and a different laser to reshape the cornea under the flap,” explains Dr. Michael Brusco, a board-certified ophthalmologist who specializes in LASIK eye surgery. He adds that the majority of patients see permanent success with the procedure and never have to rely on glasses again.
LASIK eye surgery consultation
The first step to getting LASIK is to have a consultation with the surgeon who will verify if you’re a good candidate for the procedure. You will go through a thorough eye exam with your doctor to determine if your eyes are healthy enough for the surgery.
“In addition, the doctor will do a refraction (‘1 or 2 test’) to determine if the vision is stable enough for surgery,” Brusco explains. As long as the vision is stable and the eyes are in good health, the patient will be considered for LASIK.
Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, an ophthalmologist and medical reviewer at All About Vision, says that the success of this surgery is dependent on a few factors. “It all depends on the surgeon’s experience, proper patient selection, and if the prescription is in the proper range to have a good result.”
LASIK is usually recommended for patients with nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. However, in severe cases of blurry vision, nearsightedness and/or astigmatism, the doctor may suggest a different procedure, such as EVO ICL. EVO’s Implantable Collamer Lens is a refractive implant that helps improve nearsightedness and astigmatism.
Another aspect doctors look at is your age. “Typically we don’t perform LASIK on anyone under the age of 18 as often their prescription hasn’t stabilized,” says Wachler. Likewise, for patients who are over 50, LASIK may not be the best option.
“For patients over 50 I recommend a different type of procedure called custom lens replacement due to its ability to correct distance, intermediate and near vision simultaneously,” says Brusco.
The cost and day of the procedure
If you end up being a suitable candidate for LASIK eye surgery, it’s important to know that it usually isn’t covered by your insurance, because it’s considered an elective surgery and not medically necessary, so you’ll be expected to pay out of pocket. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay on average about $2,500 to $4,000 per eye at a reputable practice. However, some insurances offer discounts or deals, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. Keep in mind you don’t want to skimp on a procedure such as this one, so proceed with caution if a facility is offering prices that seem too good to be true.
One of the aspects that makes LASIK appealing is that the process isn’t time consuming. “The day of the procedure, the patient should expect to be at the facility for about an hour but most of that time is spent waiting and going over instructions,” says Brusco. Usually anesthesia or numbing drops are used prior to surgery and patients are advised to forgo contacts and instead wear glasses. The procedure itself only takes 10 minutes, but you will need to have someone drive you home after since your vision will be cloudy.
“You can expect your vision to improve substantially within 12 hours, but almost all patients see well enough to drive and work the following day,” says Brusco. In a matter of a few days you can expect your eyes to be fully healed, but doctors recommend that patients avoid strenuous physical activity for about a week. You can expect follow-up appointments the next day, then a week, a month, three months and six months after the surgery.
The cons of LASIK eye surgery
Assuming you went through the proper vetting process prior to having LASIK eye surgery, you can expect to have a successful outcome. There are cases where complications may occur, like unwanted changes to your vision, but Wachler says that it’s very rare for this to happen.
Brusco agrees and says that while there are risks to any procedure, with LASIK they are quite rare and minimal. Most of the risks of LASIK are temporary side effects like dry eyes. “Nearly all patients will experience eye dryness and glare or halos after their procedure, but this usually resolves in a matter of weeks,” he says.
However, Wachler points out that you shouldn’t be surprised if decades later your vision changes due to age-related processes. “In this case various types of vision touch-up procedures can be done to keep up with aging,” he says. In other words, you may need to get another round of LASIK eye surgery down the line.
As previously stated, not everyone is the right candidate for LASIK. If you’re too young or over a certain age you can be disqualified. The same applies if your case of nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism is too severe.
Another downside is that LASIK is an expensive procedure that insurance doesn’t cover. But the most important aspect is making sure you’re choosing your doctor wisely if you choose to have the surgery. “I don’t recommend choosing a surgeon based on price — instead seek the best for your eyes, as you only have one pair,” Wachler advises. He insists that instead you should choose a surgeon based on experience and reputation.
Brusco also says to look out for a surgeon’s office that has your best interests at heart. “If the facility you go to doesn’t offer all six types of vision correction procedures and/or they don’t perform thorough exams, you cannot effectively guide the patient to the procedure that’s best for them,” he warns. “I’ve been doing vision correction for almost 15 years and in my experience I have found that the key to getting the best results possible is proper patient selection and a total focus on the details.”
Even though LASIK is generally a safe and effective procedure, you should still proceed with caution. Take your time to research your options and find a surgeon who is reputable — regardless of price. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have concerns about the procedure. After all, you only have one set of eyes and you want to make sure you get the best possible outcome. If you’re not the right candidate for LASIK eye surgery, it’s reassuring to know that there are other options you can consider. As always, make sure to consult with a professional who can help you make an informed decision that’s best for you.