Thinking About LASIK?
Most people don't realize that even if you have LASIK, you'll eventually need reading glasses.
You've probably seen media reports about how refractive surgeries such as LASIK can enable you to "throw away your glasses and contact lenses forever." It's an exciting idea, and everyone who needs vision correction has no doubt wondered if laser eye surgery is right for him or her.
Before you decide, there are a few things to consider about LASIK and other types of refractive surgery.
What is LASIK?
LASIK is a type of refractive surgery that reshapes your cornea by surgically removing tissue. The surgical reshaping allows light rays to focus properly on your retina the same function that glasses or contacts perform.
LASIK is the most common type of refractive surgery, but other laser eye surgeries such as PRK and LASEK accomplish basically the same thing, in slightly different ways.
Am I a good candidate for surgery?
Refractive surgery isn't for everyone. Whether it's right for you depends on your prescription, your age, and specific medical conditions. For example, refractive surgery shouldn't be performed on anyone under 21 years of age, on pregnant women, or on people whose immune systems are compromised by certain diseases and conditions.
And perhaps most important, whether it's right for you depends on your expectations of visual acuity. Your eye doctor can advise you on whether LASIK eye surgery is right for you.
Can I really get rid of my glasses and contacts?
It depends. While surgery will almost certainly reduce your dependence on glasses or contact lenses, it may not eliminate the need for them.
Almost all refractive procedures yield at least 20/40 vision, which is the common requirement for a driver's license. But you may not be happy with 20/40 vision. Like many people, you might prefer the sharpness and acuity of 20/20 vision, to which you've become accustomed with your glasses or contact lenses. Depending on your prescription, a 20/20 outcome from your procedure may be likely, but not guaranteed.
Even after LASIK, you'll eventually need reading glasses.
If your LASIK surgery does produce 20/20 vision, it won't eliminate presbyopia. That is, sometime after age 40 your eye's natural aging process will make it difficult for you to see up-close without vision correction. At that point you'll probably need reading glasses.
A great alternative to the combination of LASIK and reading glasses is GP bifocal contact lenses.
How expensive is surgery?
LASIK costs vary by type of procedure, by geographic region, and by doctor. The advent of new technologies has also been driving up the cost of LASIK. The 2012 average cost of LASIK was between $1,947 and $2,159 per eye depending upon whether the procedure was "all laser" and customized. Of course, as an elective procedure, it's not covered by most insurance policies.
What about the long-term implications?
Since LASIK involves removing tissue from your eye's cornea, it is not reversible. As your vision needs change, you might need additional procedures. Some people experience side effects, such as trouble with night vision, light sensitivity, and glare. And as we age, almost everyone will still need reading glasses.
What's the bottom line?
Many eye doctors and consumers find contact lens wear to be a better alternative than refractive surgery. After all, it accomplishes what most people really want to get rid of their glasses! Contact lenses are relatively inexpensive, non-surgical, convenient, and healthy.
Most importantly, it makes sense to try something that's reversible like contact lens wear before committing to a surgical procedure that will permanently change your eyes, with no turning back.
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[Page updated Janaury 2014]