LASIK surgery is an inexpensive, effective way to improve your eyesight. It’s been around for years, and as time passes, new technologies and better techniques only make the surgery more effective. However, it’s not entirely risk-free.
LASIK stands for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, and uses a laser to precisely and carefully change the shape of your cornea. Assuming you’re a good candidate for LASIK surgery, you can generally get the procedure done in a single day, and after a brief recovery period, you’ll be able to substantially improve your vision. Most patients no longer need to wear glasses or contact lenses after the surgery.
But what are the risks associated with the surgery, and are they worth the opportunity to improve your vision?
Let’s start by looking into the usual recovery period for LASIK surgery. Because the surgery changes the shape of your cornea, you should hypothetically notice the results almost immediately. Patients notice sharper vision within one to three days, and in many cases can return to work within the week.
Most patients do notice a handful of mild side effects, sometimes for weeks after the surgery, but these almost always fade in time. For example, you might notice some blurry vision, or temporary changes in the quality of your vision on a periodic basis. For most patients, these momentary aberrations disappear within six months of the surgery. Surgeons typically follow up with patients after several months, and may make surgical adjustments if necessary to restore proper vision.
The vast majority of patients fully recover by the six-month mark, and most patients suffer virtually no side effects whatsoever, enjoying the benefits of near-perfect vision immediately after the surgery. However, if you do experience side effects in these initial months, you may experience:
- Dry eyes. Most patients do experience dry eyes for at least several days after the surgery. Some patients have dry eyes for long after that. However, at the six-month mark, the majority of patients notice this symptom subsiding or disappearing altogether.
- Glare and halos. Vision aberrations can come in many forms, including a persistent glare, or a “halo” effect around bright lights. You may also experience double vision, or poor vision at night. For the most part, these symptoms only persist for a few weeks after the surgery, and only occur temporarily.
- Blurry vision. You may also experience some blurry vision. Again, this usually comes and goes, and disappears in a few weeks.
- Mistaken corrections. Modern LASIK surgery relies on an extremely accurate analysis of the shape of your eye. However, it’s still possible that an error during surgery could result in an inaccurate reshaping of your cornea. For example, if the surgeon removes too little tissue from your eye, you might experience a slight improvement in your vision, but not as much as you were hoping for. If the surgeon removes too much tissue (which is rarer), it may be harder to correct. Generally, these mistakes can be corrected with future procedures. Surgeons often meet with patients to evaluate their vision for several months; if your vision isn’t quite right, another procedure may be able to make things right.
- Flap issues. LASIK surgery relies on the creation of a flap on the front of your eye. In most cases, this flap heals without issue, but trauma or infections can sometimes complicate things. For example, the tissue may grow back abnormally, resulting in irritation or an infection, or you may accidentally tear the flap open again if something hits you in the face. If you take extra precautions after surgery, this shouldn’t be an issue.
A very small subset of the population may experience long-term side effects after LASIK surgery. Some patients report having dry eyes for years after the surgery, if not indefinitely, and others may experience chronic pain. These situations are not to be expected, and if the surgery is successful, they’re extremely rare.
Managing Your Risk Profile
Certain conditions may increase your risk of both short-term and long-term side effects. For example, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or a weakened immune system may impede your ability to recover. Other eye conditions, like glaucoma or cataracts may also interfere with the effectiveness of LASIK. Your LASIK provider will ask you about these conditions, and alert you if you aren’t a good candidate for LASIK surgery.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that assuming you’re a good, healthy candidate for surgery, LASIK procedures are associated with minimal risks. You may experience some discomfort and mild side effects in the first few weeks after surgery, but long-term side effects and complications are rare. Talk with your surgeon to learn more about your individual risk profile and decide for yourself.