Many people wake up each morning struggling to see the clock on their bedside table. They fumble around to find their glasses or take time out of their busy mornings to put in contact lenses. For those who depend on glasses and contacts in their everyday lives, LASIK may offer a solution.
LASIK is a refractive vision correction procedure used to treat myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism (an irregularly-shaped cornea). In many cases, it can be a permanent solution for individuals who rely on glasses or contacts to correct their vision.
LASIK is an outpatient procedure that takes as little as 15 to 20 minutes to complete. During the procedure, an ophthalmologist opens a small flap from the outer most portion of the cornea (or front of the eye) and, with the use of a medical laser, reshapes the inner layers. Then the flap is replaced into its original position, and antibiotic eyedrops are applied onto the eye’s surface. Usually both eyes are corrected during the procedure, one right after the other.
For use as an elective procedure, LASIK was originally researched and developed in the 1980s and was approved for treatment of the general population by the Food and Drug Administration in 1989. Since its approval, the technology behind the procedure has continued to evolve, improving patient satisfaction by making LASIK more customizable to the patient’s eyes, and more precise than ever before. The U.S. Air Force now approves of (and even performs) LASIK for troops.
Most patients who undergo LASIK see an improvement in their vision within the first thirty to sixty minutes following the procedure. For some, that time may be even shorter. It’s important to remember that each patient’s eyes are different — even eyes within the same head — and each eye may respond differently to the LASIK procedure. There is no guarantee that a patient who undergoes LASIK will have 20/20 vision; however, studies have shown that the majority of patients, studied post-LASIK, experience a dramatic improvement in their vision — usually 20/40 or better without glasses or contacts.
Many of the patients who received the early LASIK procedures still enjoy good health, and it has been possible for physicians and researchers to monitor results over the course of several years. An example of this research was published in Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery describing one study that followed seven LASIK patients over the course of 11 years. This study found that at the end of 11 years, over half of the patients’ eyes corrected were within one diopter of their six month post-LASIK visit refraction. A diopter is the unit of measurement shown in your eyeglass prescription; one diopter would be shown as plus or minus 1.00. Basically this study showed LASIK-corrected vision to be reasonably stable over the course of the study. Additionally, a report of studies done between 1997 and 2001 by the American Academy of Ophthalmology further supports that, for people needing mild to moderate vision correction, LASIK is a safe and effective means of replacing the daily dependence on glasses or contact lenses.
Unfortunately, as people age, changes occur inside the eye, behind the corneal area corrected by the LASIK procedure. The most common of these changes is an opacification of the lens known as cataracts. With cataracts — or other eye conditions not related to LASIK — a patient’s post-procedure vision may change. The LASIK procedure itself carries some risks and possible complications, which could affect the corneal surface and impact vision. During an individualized consultation, a doctor will explain all the risks and benefits of LASIK. LASIK care centers also monitor any change in vision afterwards to ensure that patients maintain the best sight possible. As for individual expectations, almost all patients experience a dramatic improvement in vision that stays relatively stable unless another, unrelated eye condition comes into play.
Occasionally, it’s necessary for patients to have a second LASIK procedure to refine or enhance their corrected vision. This typically takes place during a visit, several years after the initial procedure. If an additional LASIK procedure is required, the refinement procedure is almost identical to the original; however, it may carry a slightly higher risk, which — if managed properly by an experienced LASIK surgeon — is balanced by the potential benefit.
LASIK has shown to be a reasonably safe procedure that allows many people to enjoy the benefit of better vision. It is, however, still a medical procedure, and the decision to have the procedure should be made after consulting with and receiving a full eye exam from an ophthalmologist who can best determine a person’s individual outcome.
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