LASIK is an acronym that stands for “Laser-Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis.” In layman’s terms, LASIK surgery is a process that painlessly turns less than 20/20 vision to nearly perfect and allows for the discarding of or at least minimal use of corrective lenses.
LASIK surgery was approved by the FDA in 1995, and by 2008, 12 million patients had undergone the procedure in the United States. The procedure costs $1,500 to $2,100 per eye, and over 700,000 people have the surgery every year.
According to Eye Surgery Compare, statistics from the UK’s top five laser eye surgery providers indicate that “99.5% of patients with minor to moderate visual impairments will achieve eyesight of a legally acceptable standard for driving in the UK without the need for spectacles or contact lenses.” Of those individuals all but 3% will have perfect eyesight as a result of the surgery.
But, because surgery is surgery, LASIK surgery can never be certified as completely free of risk.
However, Eye Surgery Compare also states that because of technological advances in diagnostic equipment and optical lasers, laser eye surgery has been “determined as one of the safest elective surgical procedures currently available.”
While much of the research available totes the safety and freeing benefits of LASIK surgery, it’s worth noting that the scientist involved in the original FDA approval now holds regrets about his decision to approve the surgery. In 2010, the scientist (Dr. Morris Waxler) told Good Morning America that the FDA did the best they could with the information available in 1998 but that he now realizes it wasn’t good enough.
Waxler, who is now a regulatory consultant but still involved with FDA product approvals, is saying that reports of long-term negative effects of LASIK surgery are NOT being REPORTED and that half of patients experience side effects. He is also petitioning for a recall of LASIK equipment. While Waxler’s claims have not been commented on yet by the FDA, they have said they are reviewing the information.
Within this controversy, the final decision for or against the immediate and long-term safety of LASIK surgery should come only after thorough research by the patient. At the very least, patients need to educate themselves extensively within the following three areas:
- The surgeon. Realize that less expensive may not be best. Check out credentials & experience. Ask for referrals and references. According to Eye Doctor Guide.com, finding a qualified and experienced surgeon will help reduce the risk of side effects.
- The side effects. Much of the current data, which should be noted comes from the surgeons themselves, indicates that about 5% of people experience mild side effects. Those common side effects include problems with the eye flap, which is manipulated during the surgery, distorted vision such as nighttime halos, inflammation or scarring of the cornea, dry eye and infection. But also remember that based on Waxler’s claims, more serious long-term side effects are possibly not being reported.
- The screening process. Find a surgeon who has a thorough screening process. Realize that individuals with severe vision problems are more likely to experience side effects and that, according to Eye Doctor Guide.com, proper screening of patience generally reduces those who do experience them.
Fully know and understand that there are conditions that make a person not a good candidate for the surgery. While proper screening should consider all of these, patient awareness can go a long way in making this screening process work the way that it should. It can also significantly help avoid situations where proper screening processes are not in place. In “When is LASIK not for me?”, the FDA provides a good list of situations where LASIK surgery may not be a good option.
While Waxler’s claims have yet to be verified, they do create a level of warning that those interested in LASIK surgery should heed. The bottom line is that before making a decision on whether or not LASIK surgery is right for you, do your research. As you research, chose the most experience and qualified surgeon you can find to answer your questions.
And, be sure to get all your questions answered. Refuse to make a decision, especially one opting for the surgery, without having every question answered to your satisfaction. Finally, realize that LASIK surgery simply is not for everyone. In the words of Consumers Report, when it comes to LASIK eye surgery, “Look before you leap.”