Is laser eye surgery for you?

Zoomer | September 15th, 2006

If you’re tired of glasses and contact lenses, you may be considering laser eye surgery. If so, you’re not alone – one company alone, LASIK MD, claims to have over 300,000 laser vision correction procedures across Canada, and its popularity continues to grow. Here are some facts about laser eye surgery to consider.

What is laser eye surgery?
Laser eye surgery refers to two procedures performed within Canada. Each reshapes the cornea, the curved front surface of the eye. In both cases a “cold” laser is used, which prevents damage to the surrounding eye tissue. And in each case the eye then heals itself.

During the first kind of procedure, PRK, the surgeon uses a laser beam to reshape the surface of the cornea just enough to correct vision.

During the second kind of procedure, LASIK, the surgeon cuts a flap in the cornea, lifts it, and then uses a laser to remove calculated amounts of tissue from inside the cornea, and then closes the flap.

Laser eye surgery is generally not covered under provincial health care plans, so plan to pay out of pocket – usually several thousand dollars.

Who should consider it?
Laser eye surgery corrects three vision problems: near-sightedness (myopia), far-sightedness (hyperopia), and astigmatism (distortion) – meaning most people who wear glasses have a condition that can be corrected in this way. In most cases the results are satisfactory to excellent.

You may not be a good candidate for laser surgery if you have a history of eye disease, have a condition or take drugs that affect your ability to heal, or play sports where you are likely to be injured in the eye area.

What are the risks?
Studies in the late 1990s, when the procedure was still new, showed an overall complication rate (some minor) of about 5 per cent, but doctors are now reporting a complication rate closer to 1 per cent. Complication rates do vary from doctor to doctor. It’s a good idea to ask about complication rates before you begin. Possible complications include:

• loss of vision – this is very rare, but it is a risk
• visual symptoms: glare, halos, and/or double vision that can seriously affect nighttime vision.
• under- or over-treatment. Only a certain percent of patients achieve 20/20 vision, so you may still need glasses after surgery. Patients over 40, in particular, may still require reading glasses.
• severe dry eye syndrome
• results may diminish with age as the eye continues to grow, so you could end up back in glasses
• as with any surgery there is a risk of infection

Be sure to read very carefully the “informed consent” form that you will be asked to sign as it will detail the risks thoroughly. In order to help avoid complications, you will also need to follow the after-surgery care instructions exactly.

Choosing a professional
The best way to choose a professional for your laser eye surgery is to receive a referral from your eye care specialist. Interview the individual seriously. has a list of 50 tough questions to ask available at; you may want to use this list to come up with your own questions.

And a final downside to consider: as one person who had the procedure reports, “Here is a thought about whether you want LASIK. For years I was blissfully unaware of how dirty my shower could get. Everything was pleasantly fuzzy. Now I can see very clearly how disgusting it becomes. Ignorance may have been preferable.”

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