Whether you’ve been wearing glasses or contact lenses since your first day at school or only just recently found you can’t drive without them, you’d probably know that this form of vision correction can be inconvenient. Glasses get lost or fog up and contact lenses need frequent cleaning and replacement. If you’re in a stage of life where you think you might benefit from the freedom of vision correction through laser eye surgery, it would be reasonable to first consider “is laser eye surgery safe?”
How Does Laser Eye Surgery Work?
Before discussing the safety of vision correction through laser eye surgery, it first helps to understand a little about the procedure.
Laser eye surgery is a form of surgical vision correction that focuses on reshaping the front surface of the eye, known as the cornea. There are several different methods of laser eye surgery, including LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis), PRK (photorefractive keratectomy), and SMILE (small incision lenticule extraction).
These surgical methods of vision correction utilise a medical laser to selectively vaporise certain parts of the cornea. The modified shape of this structure then changes the way light bends through its surface. The goal of laser eye surgery is to bend light so that it accurately comes to a sharp focus on the retina at the back of the eye, which is how we achieve clear vision.
The different methods of laser vision correction come with slightly different potential complications due to the specifics of each technique. For example, during LASIK, a flap of corneal tissue is created to allow the laser to sculpt the underlying layers. Conversely, the PRK technique simply removes the superficial layer of cells of the cornea. This means LASIK carries the potential for flap-related complications, while PRK does not.
Is Laser Eye Surgery Safe?
Ultimately, the decision of which technique is most suitable and deciding is laser eye surgery safe for you and your eyes will be made in conjunction with your ophthalmologist.
Overall, laser eye surgery is considered to be a safe, effective procedure. The exact statistics may vary slightly between different studies but in general, success rates are found to be around 98-99%. You may find every refractive eye surgeon will be able to quote their own specific success rates and rates of complications; more experienced, skilled surgeons tend to have better statistics.
Complications that may result from laser vision correction include eyesight that is worse than that originally achieved with glasses or contacts. However, this is very rare and over 90% of patients who have LASIK report perfect 6/6 vision (commonly called 20/20 vision). Reassuringly, total loss of vision from laser eye surgery has never been recorded in Australia to date.
One of the best ways of avoiding a complication from laser vision correction is ensuring you are a suitable candidate for the procedure. This makes it important to not only choose a refractive eye specialist who is experienced but also one you can trust. To determine your suitability for surgery, the eye specialist will conduct a comprehensive eye exam. This allows him or her to determine which method of laser surgery is the safest for you as well as assessing any factors that may increase your risk of an adverse outcome. In a few instances, an individual may be told they’re unsuitable for any form of laser vision correction. If this is the case for you, don’t be discouraged! There are other refractive surgery techniques that don’t involve the cornea, such as refractive lens exchange (RLE) or implantable collamer lenses (ICL).
Here are some of the factors your eye specialist will consider when deciding if laser eye surgery is safe for you:
- Your corneal thickness. As laser eye surgery is based on vaporising areas of the cornea, it stands to reason that a minimum amount of corneal tissue is required to effectively achieve this. If your corneas are too thin, performing laser vision correction can compromise the structural integrity of your eyeball.
- Your prescription. This goes hand in hand with your corneal thickness. The higher your prescription, the more corneal tissue that needs to be removed. PRK and SMILE tend to be more suitable for thinner corneas in conjunction with higher prescriptions compared to LASIK.
- Your work and hobbies. If you cannot afford a longer recovery time after undergoing your procedure due to your work or other activities, you may opt for LASIK or SMILE surgery rather than PRK. However, patients who are exposed to dirty environments, such as a construction site, or whose activities involve a risk of trauma, PRK or SMILE may be more suitable. This is because the corneal flap created during LASIK carries a small risk of catching debris beneath it or becoming dislodged during vigorous physical activity.
- Other eye conditions. There are some situations where a pre-existing eye condition may be exacerbated by laser eye surgery or limit the final result. For example, LASIK is associated with a small risk of developing dry eye postoperatively. Patients who already suffer from persistent dry eye may instead be recommended to undergo a different procedure, such as SMILE, which carries a much lower risk.
It is not possible to foresee or avoid 100 per cent of complications or adverse side effects. However, in addition to choosing your refractive surgeon carefully, being diligent in following all post-operative instructions after your procedure can further help to reduce your risk.
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Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.