by Doris Donnerman
(last updated August 23, 2013)
There are many kinds of laser eye surgery available. The most common laser eye surgery is LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis), used to correct poor vision. As with any kind of surgery, before getting laser eye surgery three important things should be considered: eligibility for surgery, type of surgery, and skill and experience of the surgeon.
Not everyone is eligible for corrective laser eye surgery. Factors that are weighed include the amount of correction needed, the cause of the vision impairment, other health conditions, and age. To determine whether you are eligible for laser surgery, you will need to be evaluated by your ophthalmologist or optometrist and then the surgeon you are considering. Surgery can be expensive and may or may not be covered by insurance, and because vision is such an essential sense, your situation should be carefully weighed by you and your doctors.
So you're a good candidate for surgery; now what? The surgeon will recommend the type(s) of surgery based on your situation and his or her own skills. There are several different surgeries available and not all surgeons practice every kind of surgery. Usually, corrective surgery involves reshaping the cornea. The cornea is the clear part of the eye that covers the iris and the pupil; when the shape of the cornea changes, usually because of eyestrain and/or genetic factors, light entering your eye is refracted differently and not properly focused, which makes vision blurry. Altering the cornea so it is back to its proper shape will make the light refract as it should.
The surgeon will cut a small flap on the outermost layers of the eye, exposing the cornea, which is then reshaped using an ultraviolet laser controlled by a computer (and, ultimately, the surgeon). The surgery should not be painful and can be stopped at any time. The surgeon makes the decision whether to use general anesthesia or a local anesthetic. Once the surgery is complete, you may experience mild to moderate pain, which usually only lasts a couple of days. It is often recommended that you take a break from work and other activities for a few days to make sure the eye can heal while undisturbed. Within a week, most people are fully healed and will follow up with the surgeon. If there is any adjustment needed you will consult with the surgeon about options upon follow-up.
There are other laser eye surgeries that are used for very specific conditions (for example, retinal detachment). These will also be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and you should use the same criteria for determining eligibility, type of surgery, and skill of the surgeon.
Keep in mind that these are your eyes you're considering adjusting. They are one of the most valuable senses, and the decision should not be made lightly. Having an expert surgeon is perhaps the biggest factor in whether you have a positive surgery outcome. There are online resources available to help you consider what kinds of questions you should ask your surgeon, but in general make sure you know the success rate of his or her surgeries, and get a clear understanding of what happens if there are complications during or after the procedure. Your ophthalmologist can offer suggestions, as can others in the community who has been treated by the surgeon. You may also find it helpful to consult with other laser eye surgeons out of your area, who may be able to offer suggestions and information about surgeons in your area. It is most important to make sure your surgeon is skilled, reputable, and experienced in order to have a good outcome.
Corrective laser eye surgery can have a very strong impact on the rest of your life. Before you commit to a surgery, be sure you weigh the risks and benefits to make an informed and careful decision. A successful surgery can be a very positive change, but a failed surgery can create lifelong difficulty.
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