Choosing laser refractive surgery

With the incredible technological advances being made in laser refractive surgery, patients now have more choice than ever in finding an effective, quick and painless procedure to correct their vision. On the other hand, the number of options available makes it more important than ever that those considering the procedure have all the information needed to make a sound, educated – and above all, safe – decision when it comes to laser eye surgery.

Probably the most well-known type of refractive vision correction surgery is LASIK. This is an acronym for “laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis”, and it’s by far the most common choice and one that has become routine for experienced ophthalmologists (the eye doctors who perform the surgery).

So what accounts for LASIK’s popularity? First, it’s highly effective. Estimates put patient satisfaction with the outcome at 95%, and the successful restoration of 20/20 vision at 91%. That’s a remarkably high rate of patient satisfaction, especially relative to other types of elective surgery, where expectations can often surpass results. Most patients who opt for the procedure have moderate refractive problems (so they are near or far-sighted) and do so to correct their vision to the point where they can give up contacts and prescription lenses. On that basis, LASIK delivers results. What’s more, the costsavings realized by not having to replace contacts and glasses on a regular basis is very appealing as well.

Another thing that draws people to choose LASIK is that it’s a quick and painless procedure, with a short recovery time. The process itself is very precise and only takes 15 minutes. The patient is given eye drops that contain an anaesthetic, so they won’t feel any pain during the procedure. A microkeratome blade – or more recently, a femtosecond laser – is used to make a small incision on the surface of the cornea, the lens that covers the eye. The small flap created by the incision is lifted, and another type of laser, the excimer, is then used underneath it to correct the refractive irregularities by reshaping the cornea. Patients can go home the same day; after-care is minimal, and most people are back to normal activities in two to four days.

LASIK generally provides excellent patient outcomes, but there are some important caveats to keep in mind. First and foremost, be sure your eye doctor (and the hospital where you have the operation) are certified and highly experienced in this type of procedure. Before agreeing to anything, you should meet with an ophthalmologist, who will take a medical history and perform a thorough eye examination to be sure you are, in fact, a good candidate for a successful procedure. You need to be at least 18 years of age, and have had a steady eye prescription for two years, and your vision problems must be due to refractory issues, rather than another health problem. Finally, as with any surgery, there are risks and potential complications. While these are rare, it’s essential you have discussed these with your doctor and are comfortable with the degree of risk involved. A reputable, experienced and board-certified eye surgeon will help you make the decision that’s right for you.

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