Is eye laser surgery right for you?

July 10, 2015

Many people have undergone laser surgery to correct their vision and have achieved complete freedom from glasses and contact lenses. Originally used mainly for near sight, it can now correct mild far sight and even astigmatism.

Is eye laser surgery right for you?

Procedure process

  • The procedure takes less than an hour and can be done without a hospital stay, usually in specialized clinics using anaesthetic eye drops.
  • Patients are often back at work within a few days, though you may not be able to drive for a couple of weeks and may need to wear sunglasses for several months as the eyes are more sensitive to light after laser surgery.
  • Both eyes can be corrected in one operation but surgeons usually operate on one eye at a time, waiting a few days or weeks before correcting the other to see how the first eye has responded.
  • Insurance rarely covers the cost of laser surgery — usually because it is considered cosmetic, so be sure to shop around carefully.

Who can benefit?

  • Laser surgery is performed only on adults (generally people over 21, to be sure that the eye has developed fully), and on healthy eyes with a stable prescription for visual correction for at least three years.
  • Interestingly, in some occupations laser surgery may be an obstacle to employment.
  • It may cause problems for divers, for example, and in some countries, police forces have in the past excluded people who had the surgery.

Types of laser surgery available

The three main types of laser surgery all work by reshaping the cornea. Your surgeon will advise on which is the most suitable for your eyes.

1) PRK (Photorefractive keratectomy): This is the original operation and is rarely used nowadays. It is more painful than the other options and healing times are longer. It involves scraping away the top layer of the surface of the cornea, then changing its shape with a laser.

2) LASEK (Laser epithelial keratomileusis): Although this procedure is becoming more popular, it takes longer for eyes to heal and may be more painful than the more commonly-performed LASIK procedure.

3) LASIK (Laser Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis): This is the most common procedure. A small flap is cut in the cornea, then lifted. Laser energy is applied to the eye to reshape the cornea, then the flap is replaced.

It is virtually painless and has the shortest healing time, though you may experience some discomfort, burning, watering, itching and grittiness afterward. Recovery of vision occurs within a few days, although it may fluctuate for a while and take a few weeks to stabilize. This method is not considered suitable if your cornea is very thin.

Risks and warnings

  • Although laser surgery is usually safe, it makes sense to ensure that it is carried out by a properly trained surgeon in a well-equipped clinic.
  • Many in the medical community recommend that the surgeon be a fully trained opthalmologist with specialist training in laser use.
  • In North America, Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration regulate the sale of medical devices used for LASIK surgeries.
  • This ensures the safety, effectiveness and quality of the medical devices used.
  • The skill of those using the medical devices, however, is not guaranteed. As such, those considering laser eye surgery are urged to do their homework.
  • People are encouraged to research the clinic of their choice and be wary of clinics offering "too good to be true" advertisements.
  • Make sure to be cautious of the clinic you choose and be aware of the possible risks associated with any surgery.
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