Hey girl (with the glasses): Even if laser eye surgery does carry the promise of crystal clear 20/20 vision, I totally understand if you can’t wrap your head around paying someone to slice up your eyeballs.
Truth is, I had trouble with this idea, too—until I had a chat this week with a LASIK surgeon and a new (no longer four-eyed) friend. A reason (or five) why it might be worth overcoming your squeamishness to ditch your pesky specs:
1. It’s Safer Than Ever
OC-based ophthalmologist Dr. Diana H. Kersten, MD, says LASIK (Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis), adopted in the late 1990s for correction of near and farsightedness and astigmatism, is now safer, more precise, and more accurate than ever.
“Your chance of any kind of problem is infinitesimally small” with the newest wave of surgical lasers, Kersten assures me. In the under-10-minute (pain-free!) procedure, lasers are used to cut a small flap on the surface of the cornea (the clear covering surrounding your pupil and iris), then reshape it.
“Most of the risks are mild—and with a simple little fix, everything is fine,” Kersten explains. “Flap complications happen every once in a while—someone will leave the laser suite with perfect eyes and come back the next day with a flap that has some very small wrinkles (or striae). Typically, [the patient] feels that eye is a little blurry. The striae can be removed by irrigating saline under the flap and smoothing it out.”
The other complication Kersten describes is called regression—where, as the cornea heals, a bit of nearsightedness or astigmatism can reappear. Regression can occur after almost any period of time, but usually, it happens sometime in the first year.
“The truth is, everyone heals a bit differently,” says Kersten. “If [regression] happens within a year of the LASIK surgery, we wait until [the cornea] is finished changing and can go back into the same flap and do a little touchup. It’s all covered by the LASIK fee and it’s not a major thing.”
2. Your Anxiety Will be Anticipated and Addressed
Krista Reger, 30, a hydrogeologist who has worn glasses and contacts since the tender age of 10 (and hated them in equal measure) describes her pre-operative experience positively. “I remember being afraid the morning of—the idea of someone cutting into your eyeball becomes very real. I was really nervous that something could go wrong and I would be blind. I was thinking, ‘Is this worth it?’”
“But then, they put you in a room with big comfy Barcalounger recliners for an hour or so and give you some medication to calm you down. By the time they came to get me, I was much calmer and was like, ‘I can do this.’”
That medication, Kersten explains, is often a mild sedative like Xanax (alprazolam). The drug not only decreases anxiety—it also induces drowsiness for a necessary post-procedure nap. “Your eyes would be teary, uncomfortable, and feel itchy if you were awake [after the procedure], but if you go home and take a nap for a couple of hours, you feel pretty good when you wake up.”
LASIK surgeons like Kersten also make a huge effort to ensure their patients are informed during the entire procedure. “I usually talk to patients throughout the whole thing and keep a running stream of words so they know what is going on. I tell them, ‘Now you’re going to feel this, and now we’re doing this, and everything is going great.’ In general, it’s pretty easy for patients.”
3. You’re a Girl
Although LASIK should be painless for everyone (there’s a sensation of pressure for about 40 seconds while the flap is being made), Kersten does feel women may have an overall easier time. “I don’t want to insult men here—but men may be likely to be a little more nervous and jumpy,” she says.
“I think a part of that is women are so used to getting up close to their eyes—putting on eyeliner, plucking their eyebrows—and they are more likely to wear contacts. So the idea of being close to the eyes for a procedure isn’t an issue. Women tend to be very relaxed about it.”
4. Contact-Related Corneal Ulcers Are Way Scarier
“It’s probably less safe to wear contacts for 10 years that it is to have LASIK now,” says Kersten.
She explains that historically, in the 1980s, when extended wear soft contact lenses were popular, there was a huge increase in corneal ulcers and infections which sometimes led to vision loss. “Corneal ulcers have been a huge issue ever since contacts were invented—because there’s always a risk of bacterial or amoebic organisms getting under the contact and replicating to cause an infection.”
And, although Kersten asserts that the contact lenses of today are much safer and it’s recommended to remove them frequently (and at night), she says, “Someone who has had LASIK has a much lower risk of corneal infections, since they aren’t wearing contact lenses. Most of the patients that we see with corneal ulcers are contact lens wearers.”
5. You Did Your Homework
So, now that I’ve convinced you’re going to be perfectly fine—stay with me a second longer before you Google map the closest eye surgeon.
The last way to make LASIK not-at-all scary is to take time in choosing the right set of surgical hands. Kersten says to stick with a practice that has been doing the procedure for several years and a surgeon who feels strongly about meeting you pre-op.
“I know there are a lot of LASIK centers where you don’t meet the patient pre-op. But, you need to look at [the physician’s] training and make sure they are from a reputable medical school and ophthalmology program and that they are board certified.”
Kersten also advises asking the surgeon about alternative procedures if you’re not a candidate—if you have too-thin corneas, extremely dry eyes, or a high degree of nearsightedness, for example, you may not be an appropriate candidate for LASIK surgery.
Lastly, she emphasizes that you should feel a certain sort of synergy with your surgeon. “I think it’s important when you’re having any sort of procedure that you’re very comfortable with the doctor providing the care.”