What You Need to Know About LASIK
If the idea of LASIK surgery to correct your vision seems too good to be true, or if you’re intimidated by the thought of a laser coming anywhere near your eye, read on. There are some things you need to know about LASIK before you make your final decision.
History of LASIK
When researchers first began talking about the possibility of a vision correction procedure involving lasers, doctors and the general population were skeptical. It was considered as wild of an idea as making someone taller or extending their life to 150 years, completely unheard of and seemingly outside the realm of possibility. After FDA clinical trials showed the LASIK procedure to be both safe and incredibly effective, the world took notice. This was a paradigm shift on the level of the automobile or the internet. Vision could be corrected to the point that a patient no longer had need of glasses or contacts. Researchers themselves had the procedure done in 1997 to show the medical community exactly how exciting this discovery was and to prove that it would be a safe option for doctors to learn and patients to consider.
Types of LASIK Surgery
In the past two and a half decades, LASIK has evolved from a single procedure to a couple of possible procedural options, depending on the individual patient needs and their corneal anatomy. The first type of LASIK surgery is now better known as PRK, Photorefractive Keratectomy. It involves the surgeon using a blade to create a corneal flap in order to access the cornea for reshaping. Patients typically return to normal life without glasses, contacts, or post-operative discomfort within three or four days. Approximately 20-25% of laser vision correction patients still undergo PRK because it’s the best option for their particular eye care plan and it still results in 20/20 vision.
The second generation of laser vision correction is what is widely known as LASIK. Instead of using a blade to create a corneal flap, the surgeon uses a femtosecond laser to separate the layers of the cornea with a field of tiny bubbles in order to access the cornea for reshaping. The bubbles lift the surface layer of the cornea so that no cutting is necessary. As a result, patients have a quicker recovery time, usually returning to their routines without discomfort or corrective lenses in a day or two. LASIK also results in near 20/20 vision for most patients.
If the idea of a laser reshaping your cornea seems intimidating, perhaps it would help you to think of the procedure as blinking light vision therapy. The doctor uses bubbles, you watch a blinking light for a few seconds, you go home to take a nap, and you see 20/20 the next day. That sounds simple and non-invasive enough, doesn’t it? In reality, that’s exactly how patient-friendly LASIK is. It sounds scary, but it’s not.
Before and After LASIK Surgery
Before LASIK, patients talk about the frustration and inconvenience of waking up in the middle of the night unable to see the time without finding their corrective lenses first. They talk about the added anxiety of swimming without their glasses because they can’t see or swimming with their contacts and accidentally losing them in the water. Athletes and those who enjoy active lifestyles must navigate the challenges of glasses falling off or helmets having to be worn over glasses. Contact wearers must adequately clean their lenses routinely or risk irritation or infection. All in all, life with corrective lenses, life before LASIK, can be a hassle.
Before patients are allowed to schedule the LASIK procedure, they must first consult with one of the doctors at Katzen Eye Care & Laser Center. That consultation will involve a series of tests to help the doctor evaluate the best treatment plan, the anatomy and topography of your cornea, and any other health conditions that could impact the procedure. Ultimately, the doctor is looking for any possible reason to disqualify a patient as a candidate for LASIK, because if none can be identified, it makes it more likely the patient will exit the procedure with the most satisfying results. For those patients who are disqualified from LASIK, the doctor will recommend other possible treatment options.
After LASIK surgery, patients excitedly tell us about how the results are better than they even imagined. They can see clearly in the shower and in the mirror, they can enjoy watching their kids swim at the beach, they can tell time in the middle of the night, and those who enjoyed them before are more confident in their athletic endeavors.
Immediately following the short (usually about 10 minutes) procedure, the doctor gives a patient some eye drops and a sleeping aid and clears them to be driven home for a nap. The sleeping aid helps the patient fall asleep, ideally for about three hours, to allow for optimal comfort and healing. There can be some stinging in the eyes right after the surgery that can be mitigated with this nap. After a nap and a good night’s sleep later that night, patients are usually able to go back to work or normal activity the following day with little to no discomfort and great vision.
Post LASIK Care
In addition to the nap and eye drops, doctors usually ask patients to return for follow-up evaluations the next day, a week later, a month later, and three months later. These visits are to ensure the eye is healing properly and to address any questions or side effects you may be experiencing.
LASIK Side Effects
While the most common side effect we hear about from patients after LASIK is their great vision, some also mention experiencing dry eyes, halos in their vision, and difficulty with night driving. Both dry eyes and the halo effect were side effects in the earliest FDA clinical trials. What those trials failed to ask patients was whether or not they experienced these things prior to LASIK. After some additional follow up, it was determined that most patients who listed the effects had also experienced the same symptoms prior to LASIK.
LASIK with Dry Eyes
It’s normal for patients to experience dry eyes after LASIK. Usually, those symptoms can be managed with artificial tears. The dryness occurs because the corneal nerves that stimulate tear production are desensitized after the procedure and take a while to recover. Some patients feel the dryness and others don’t. That’s why doctors recommend all LASIK patients supplement with artificial tears for a few months after the procedure to ensure the moisture necessary for optimal eye function.
LASIK Halo Effect
The halo effect can be described as an extra glow surrounding lights that doesn’t actually exist. Because halos around lights were reported in the 1995 FDA clinical trials, they continue to be listed as a possible side effect of LASIK. However, with advances in treatment over the past 25 years, very few patients have experienced halos. They remain a possibility, though, especially when patients have unusually large pupils which dilate more under dark conditions.
Night Driving After LASIK
Night driving after LASIK can be a little bit challenging for a few days. The corneal swelling that occurs naturally after the procedure as part of the healing process remains for 24 to 72 hours. It’s this swelling that impacts night vision. Some patients describe the difficulty as being similar to trying to drive with a thin mist of rain on their windshield. It refracts light just enough to give an added glow (a halo, if you will) to traffic lights and the headlights of oncoming cars. Once the swelling goes down, vision returns to how it was when corrective lenses were worn… except without the lenses.
If the idea of living life without corrective lenses sounds like a dream, let the professional team at Katzen Eye Care & Laser Center help your dreams come true. Schedule your LASIK consultation today.