“Make no mistake; LASIK is surgery, and anyone who implies otherwise is not forthcoming.” These words from Dr. Terry Kim at Duke rightly warn that LASIK surgery is not risk free. After all, anytime someone is cutting into the body, risks are involved. This caution is even more important when the cutting involves the delicate tissues of the human eye.
So what is LASIK surgery? In brief, LASIK involves cutting a flap in the cornea of the eyeball (the clear disk on the front) and then reshaping the cornea with ultraviolet laser light to correct for focal error of the eye. In many it is able to correct for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism so effectively that glasses are no longer needed.
In 1995 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), under the direction of Dr. Morris Waxler, approved the LASIK laser equipment and procedure. However, after he left the FDA in 2000, Dr. Waxler has increasingly opposed the LASIK surgery and petitioned the FDA to repeal its approval of the procedure!
Why did Dr. Waxler make such a radical about face? After years of trumpeting LASIK surgery successes, he found that other resulting problems were being ignored. For instance, LASIK surgery can induce dry eyes, halos, light sensitivity, night blindness, ghost images, keratectasia (corneal thinning and bulging) and other serious vision problems.
In response to this claim, the FDA issued this statement: “LASIK lasers appear to be reasonably safe and effective when used as intended.” However, they have commissioned a two-year study of these claims.
Others feel the problems are blown out of proportion. Yes, surgery has risks, but these risks can be minimized through certain precautions. Here is a checklist of some of the more important ones.
First, be fussy about who will do surgery on the only two eyes you will ever have. If the doctor is certified to do LASIK surgery, then he already met a stringent list of qualifications. But further, find out how experienced he is, and what is his track record. This information would be vital to know before proceeding.
In addition, be sure that the doctor does a thorough exam to see if you qualify for the surgery. One honest clinic (Duke University) admits they turn down 20% of those interested in LASIK, and that for a variety of reasons. These include high refractive errors requiring too much correction, dry eyes, thin or abnormally shaped corneas, cataracts, and diabetes induced retinal problems.
You may find it to be difficult to get an unbiased opinion as to whether LASIK surgery is right for you. After all, it is a lucrative procedure, netting $1500 to $2000 per eye and demanding less than an hour of time. After the equipment is paid for, the cost-profit curve is steep. Doctors performing LASIK surgery may well be reluctant to discourage you from proceeding with the LASIK surgery if it affects their pocketbook. This underlines the importance of doing your homework before proceeding. The good news is that, if LASIK is too risky for you, alternate treatments are also available.