LASIK 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, 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 between $1,500 and $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.

Because surgery is surgery, LASIK can never be considered completely risk free.

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 available research notes the safety and freeing benefits of LASIK surgery, it’s worth noting that one scientist involved in the original Food and Drug Administration approval now holds regrets about his decision to approve the operation.

In 2010, Dr. Morris Waxler told Good Morning America that the FDA did the best it could with the information available in 1998 but that he now realizes it wasn’t good enough. Waxler, now a regulatory consultant and still involved with FDA product approvals, says that reports of long-term adverse effects of LASIK surgery are NOT BEING REPORTED and that half of the patients experience side effects.

For developments since Waxler’s claims, be sure to check out the Latest on FDA’s LASIK Program for its extensive response to the feedback from the public and LASIK experts.

The final decision for or against the immediate and long-term safety of LASIK surgery should come only after thorough research by the patient.

Waxler recommends that since there’s no reason to rush the surgery, read all you can about it and “know the worst that can happen to your eyes, and be willing to live with the worst” if you go ahead with the surgery. At the very least, patients need to educate themselves extensively on the following three areas:

  1. The surgeon. Realize that less expensive may not be best. Check out credentials & experience. Ask for referrals and references. According to Eye Doctor, finding a qualified and experienced surgeon will help reduce the risk of side effects.
  2. The side effects. Much of the current data, which often comes from the surgeons themselves, indicates that about 5% of people experience mild side effects. These shared side effects include problems with the eye flap, which is manipulated during the surgery, and distorted vision such as nighttime halos, inflammation or scarring of the cornea, dry eye, and infection.
  3. 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, proper testing generally reduces those side effects.

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 process optimal. Patient knowledge can also significantly help avoid situations where proper screening procedures are not in place. When is LASIK not for me? Provides a good list of cases where LASIK surgery may not be a good option.

Consider these bottom line points before making a decision on whether or not LASIK surgery is right for you:

  1. Do your research.
  2. Choose the most experienced and qualified surgeon you can find.
  3. Get all your questions answered.
  4. Refuse to make a decision, especially one opting for the surgery, without completing 1-3 above.

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.