Can LASIK Improve your Vision?
Laser eye surgery or LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) is often touted as the most effective way to improve your vision long-term without the need for prescription glasses or contact lenses. The procedure is performed by a qualified ophthalmologist, who aims to reshape the cornea using a precise laser in order to correct vision deficiencies like astigmatism, hyperopia (farsightedness), and myopia (nearsightedness).
So Can LASIK Really Improve your Vision?
Although the answer to the above question will depend on the current health of your eyes, most people do see satisfactory results after the procedure. Each year advancements are made that increase the overall success rate. However, there is always a chance that the surgery will not have the desired effect, and people that have significant vision problems and require a strong corrective prescription are more likely to experience less-than-optimal results.
How Well Does LASIK Work for Most People?
There have been a number of LASIK studies conducted by the FDA and medical organizations. According to a benchmark report cited by the American Academy of Opthalmology, a comprehensive overview of 64 different studies showed that more than 90% of participants were able to have their myopic astigmatism or myopia corrected to within just 2 diopters of the target vision designated before the procedure. The outcome was more favorable for patients with minor to moderate myopia.
In another analysis report, 22 similar studies were examined and it was shown that nearly 95% of participants were able to achieve post-surgery uncorrected visual acuity (UCVA) scores of at least 20/40. These results were achieved by 99% of individuals with minor to moderate myopia, and nearly 90% of individuals with severe myopia. The results for patients with hyperopic astigmatisms or hyperopia were slightly lower, at about 88% of participants achieving vision correction within 1 diopters of the predesignated target. Typical overall results of LASIK surgery have 95% of patients achieving 20/40 or better, and 85% achieving 20/20 or better.
Will LASIK Always Result in the Best Possible Vision?
Your best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA) is the best possible vision you're able to achieve via corrective lenses, as defined by your eye exam score while wearing corrective lenses. It is important to understand that even successful LASIK surgeries do not always result in a higher BCVA. In other words, there is a chance that your surgery may not give you uncorrected vision (without lenses) that is better than what you're currently able to see while wearing glasses/contacts.
For example, if you can currently see 20/20 with corrective lenses, and 20/100 without them, your LASIK surgery will usually improve your uncorrected sight to somewhere between 20/40 and 20/20, however there is no guarantee that your post-LASIK vision will be better than what you were able to see with your glasses on before the surgery. While there is a small chance that your BCVA could actually decrease (meaning your best possible vision with glasses could actually drop from 20/20 to 20/25), you'll almost always wind up with better uncorrected vision, and this is a fair trade for most people. Fortunately, only 1% of LASIK patients lose 1 bar of BCVA, and only 5% lose two bars.
Most ophthalmologists that regularly perform LASIK surgery will be able to provide a chart or report that indicates the success rates they've had with their patients. Ultimately, the goal of LASIK is not to create absolutely perfect vision, but to greatly improve uncorrected visual acuity and decrease the patient's dependency on corrective lenses and contacts.
What to Expect from LASIK Surgery
Ironically, the preparation and research process for most patients usually takes longer than the procedure itself, which usually only takes no more than 10 minutes per eye. You'll be asked not to wear any makeup or fragrances on the day of the operation, as this could damage the equipment and/or cause undesirable results.
The ophthalmologist will position you on a bed with your eyelid held open by a special lid holder. You will remain conscious throughout the procedure and will be asked to stare at a target laser. Fret not though, numbing eyedrops will be applied pre-operation. Most ophthalmologists will also offer patients an oral sedative beforehand, particularly if they appear to be nervous.
You should be able to return to your daily activities within 24 hours of your surgery, however most doctors recommend several days of rest to improve the healing process and facilitate optimal results. You'll also be told to avoid rubbing your eyes, and refrain from strenuous exercise for at least 7 days after the surgery.
Are Complications Possible with LASIK?
While the vast majority of patients have no long-term complications after LASIK, there is always a very small chance of something going wrong. The most common serious complications to worry about with LASIK are post-operation eye infections and chronic dry eyes. Some people experience short-term side effects like hazy vision, glare, and halos, before their vision stabilizes.
According to the Eye Surgery Education Council (ESEC), the majority of LASIK complications are reversible and can be completely treated within a few months. The chances of experiencing any of the aforementioned complications are lower when the surgeon has more experience, and higher for people with chronic diseases that affect the healing process, like diabetes.
How Much does LASIK Cost?
We have covered this question in detail in our how much does LASIK cost article.