Here are the facts on the surgery's risks, success rate, and more.
You’ve worn glasses or contacts forever, and frankly, you’re tired of the hassle. You want to see clearly from the second you wake up in the morning till the moment you drift to sleep at night. But if you're considering Lasik, you probably have some questions like, "Will I be laid up for days?" "Will it hurt?" And: "What are the odds it'll work?" Before you go under the laser, here are a few things you should know.
How is Lasik done?
After your eye surgeon applies numbing drops, she makes an incision in the cornea and lifts a thin flap. Then a laser reshapes the corneal tissue underneath, and the flap is replaced. "The patient can see very quickly," says Wilmington, Delaware-based ophthalmologist Robert Abel, Jr., MD, author of The Eye Care Revolution. "You get off the table and think, 'Wow.'"
Who can get the procedure?
Lasik is used to treat the common vision problems nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. To find out if you’re a good candidate for the surgery, see an ophthalmologist for an eye exam. “You need to make sure your cornea is uniform, you don’t have severe dry eye or other eye conditions, and your prescription is stable,” explains Dr. Abel.
Lasik can also be used to fix presbyopia—that maddening effect of aging that makes it harder to focus close-up—but you need to have one eye corrected for near vision and the other for distance. This technique, called Monovision Lasik, affects depth perception and sharpness, so you may still require glasses for visually demanding activities like driving at night, or reading fine print for long periods of time. (The FDA recommends doing a trial with monovision contact lenses first.)
Also know that as you get older, your vision may continue to get worse, so you may need another Lasik procedure or glasses down the road, says Dr. Abel.
What's the success rate?
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 90% of Lasik patients end up with vision somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40.
There's a chance you will still need to use corrective lenses sometimes: A 2013 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that more than 50% of people who get Lasik or other laser vision-correction surgery wear glasses or contacts at least occasionally. Still, 80% of the survey respondents reported feeling "completely" or "very satisfied" with their procedure.
According to the FDA, results are usually not as good in people who have very large refractive errors. Make sure you discuss your expectations with your ophthalmologist to see if they're realistic.
What are the risks?
While the thought of a laser boring into your eye may seem, well, terrifying, the procedure is overwhelmingly safe, Dr. Abel says, noting that the risk of problems is about 1%.
That said, it's important to weigh the risks against the benefits, as the potential complications can be debilitating. The FDA has a list on its site, including severe dry eye syndrome, and a loss in vision that cannot be fixed with eyewear or surgery. Some patients develop symptoms like glare, halos, and double vision that make it especially tough to see at night or in fog.
There are also temporary effects to consider. According to the Consumer Reports survey, many respondents experienced side effects—including dry eyes, halos, and blurry vision—that lasted six months or longer.
One thing you don’t have to worry about: Flinching or blinking during the procedure. A device will keep your eyelids open, while a suction ring prevents your eye from moving.
How long will I be out of commission?
You will need someone to drive you home after the procedure, but you can go back to work the very next day.
How much will this cost?
According to Lasik.com, the cost can range from $299 per eye to more than $4,000 per eye. Geography, technology, and the surgical experience of the doctor all factor into the price. Insurance companies don't typically cover the surgery. You can use tax-free funds from your FSA, HSA, or HRA account to pay for it.
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Is Lasik the only option?
Epi-LASIK is a similar laser procedure, but it's done without making a surgical incision, says Dr. Abel. “The risk of complications is even lower than traditional Lasik, and that’s why a lot of people are opting to get Epi-Lasik." The catch: The recovery takes longer. You’ll need to wait 4 days before you can drive, he says, and 11 days to see really well.
How can I find a good doctor?
With nearly every daily deal site offering discounts on laser eye surgery, it can be tempting to choose the cheapest doc. But it’s important you see someone with a wealth of experience, says Dr. Abel. After all, these are your eyes we’re talking about. Dr. Abel suggests calling your local university hospital and asking an administrative assistant or nurse where they refer their Lasik patients. “You want to go to someone with good follow-up care and an extended warranty or guarantee of at least three years in case you need a correction later in life,” says Dr. Abel.