Adventure and exploration are a big part of my life and when my vision started to change and affect my choices, I made a decision to have LASIK done. I had been nearsighted my entire life; but as I passed into my fourth decade of life, the natural decline of my eye muscles really began to bother me. Wearing corrective lenses was no longer giving me the confidence to jump across the top of boulders, swiftly mountain bike through wooded trails, or even sprint up and down lengthy staircases. If I didn’t do something about my eyes, I would have to forego a big part of my active outdoor lifestyle.
As you can imagine, the thought of having “laser beams slice into my eyes” was pretty scary and I took my time doing the research before I made the commitment. I definitely had some concerns—pain, cost, side effects, and more. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I would be a good candidate since I always found it near impossible to keep my eyes open to insert basic eye drops. However, I was really motivated to be more active, feel better about myself, and finally have the opportunity to buy trendy sunglasses instead of wearing the same prescription Ray-Bans I’ve had for way too long.
What is LASIK?
LASIK (Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis) is the reshaping of your eyes with a laser to help correct vision problems. It is a blade-free procedure. (In short, the highly accurate laser reshapes your eye allowing it to bend light rays correctly.) The surgeon creates a flap on the surface of your cornea to act as a door that he will open for surgery and close for healing as a natural bandage. Recovery is typically within 12-24 hours. LASIK can treat vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.
Pros vs Cons
In addition to having multiple consultations from various surgeons, I was also put at ease by some of the facts:
- More than 16 million people worldwide have had LASIK.
- LASIK has the highest patient satisfaction rate of any elective surgery— 95.4%.
- Glasses fog up, break, scratch, smudge, and fall off of your face!
- LASIK is more accurate than the old blade procedure which could only shape your eye based on your current prescription.
- LASIK is not something that will “wear off.” Note: Your eyes will change in the future as you age which may require a “touch up”procedure or corrective lenses, but your initial procedure will always be what it was.
It goes without saying that there are always risks with any surgery. The occurrence of side effects is very low and most can be treated or resolved, but you always need to weigh them into your decision making process.
- dry eye syndrome
- possible need for glasses after surgery
- visual symptoms including halos, glare, starbursts, and double vision
- loss of vision
As of the date of this post I am 10 weeks post-op. I did have three of these “side effects,” but they were treated and resolved. I experienced halos and glare around lights at night which made driving a bit annoying. This resolved itself after the first month of healing. I also experienced dry eye syndrome which has been gradually resolving itself. Immediately following the surgery I was using eye drops every hour; a week later I was using the eye drops every couple of hours; ten weeks later I am using the eye drops twice per day. I did need glasses after the surgery, but I was made aware of this during my consultations. My nearsightedness and astigmatism were corrected, but the additional farsightedness I began developing with my age was not. There is an option to fix both, but it required sacrificing depth perception which I was not prepared to do. I am still really active and losing depth perception would prevent me from the activities I enjoy. So, I have prescription reading glasses to help me read small print and work on my computer which is a completely acceptable compromise.
Note: Not all surgeons were forthcoming about losing depth perception when fixing my vision of both farsightedness and nearsightedness. Some even pushed this type of surgery to the extent that I may have chosen it without knowing the sacrifice. Fortunately with several consultations, this information came forth on its own so I could make the best decision for myself.
Considering LASIK Surgery
The first step in considering LASIK is speaking with a surgeon. Every surgeon’s office I called offered a free consultation. The only risk to you is time. Your questions and concerns should be addressed as well as pricing during this visit. I found visiting a few different surgeons was a little redundant as far as the testing and information I had to give, but the varied opinions and feedback I received was invaluable in helping me choose to do the procedure and selecting a surgeon. In addition to paperwork, you should expect a number of tests which should include:
- Test your vision
- Map the shape of your cornea
- Screen for eye diseases; including glaucoma, cataracts or diabetic retinopathy
- Measure your corneal thickness, eye movement, and pupil size
- Assess the back of your eye
The LASIK Surgery Procedure
- You have already arrived to the appointment wearing comfortable clothing, no make-up or creams of any kind, and no contact lenses (typically you will not wear these for 3 weeks before your surgery). You will be prepped for the procedure with minor cautionary items which may include a hair net, gauze to cover your ears, and sterile booties to go over your shoes.
- The surgeon performs a preliminary eye exam and takes measurements to create a unique profile for each of your individual eyes.
- You will receive anesthetic drops in each eye to numb them.
- You wait for the numbing and the surgeon while you lay down on the operating bed. (I’ll call it a bed since it was padded and more comfortable than an operating table.) The surgeon continues to prepare while your drops take effect.
- The surgeon will place a speculum around your eye to hold your eyelids back. (Honestly, this was the most uncomfortable part of the procedure for me. The speculum was not painful, but I felt the pressure of my widened lids at the corners of my eyes. I was quite amazed that there were no marks or discoloration around my eye area from the speculum, but it probably felt worse than it actually was considering this is not a common thing to do to your eye.)
- The surgeon uses the Femtosecond Laser to create a thin flap on the surface of your cornea, then gently lifts the flap to expose the treatment area to reshape the cornea from within. See description of this laser below.
- The surgeon works inside the cornea with the Excimer Laser to carefully reshape the eye, removing small amounts of tissue with tiny, rapid bursts from a laser. (Light energy is used to precisely reshape your cornea.) See description of this laser below.
- When the surgery is complete your eye will be a more ideal shape for clear, focused vision. The surgeon will reposition your flap and the healing process will begin with the flap acting as a natural bandage.
- Since the procedure is done one eye at a time you will repeat the experience with the Femtosecond Laser and the Excimer Laser for your other eye.
- Once both eyes are completed, your procedure is over. (The total procedure takes about 10 minutes per eye.)
I tried to do some research beforehand on what to expect with the surgery, but came up with a lot of different variations since I wasn’t clear on the precise machines my doctor would be using. There are other methods and machines, but the ones described here are the most current and will most likely be what you experience. As I mentioned earlier, I was really worried about keeping my eye open and stationary so I wouldn’t botch the surgery. During the surgery I was evaluating the images with what I was feeling to try to figure out what was going on. I’m the type of person that develops more anxiety from the unknown. In my case, the surgeon spoke about what I might be feeling and kept encouraging me with positive comments like “you’re doing great.” There was no play-by-play on the procedure so I made sure to ask questions afterwards so I could write about it for the next person searching for answers.
Laser Femtosecond Laser Wave light FS200
This laser creates the flap for the doctor to be able to access the cornea. It is a very precise machine that replaces the older variation using a hand held blade to create the flap. (Note: There are some circumstances where the hand held blade is still used on certain patients. This is determined ahead of time during your evaluation.)
Let’s take a moment to go back to my concern of eye movement. I want to ease anyone else’s concern by letting you know that they have this handled. A suction ring is centered over your pupil and suction is applied once the ring has been properly centered and verified. The computer for the laser monitors centration of the ring and its suction so the laser treatment can be administered. You actually have no control of your eye and involuntary movement is inhibited.
Once the flap is created the suction can be released. The surgeon will use a tiny spatula to carefully lift the flap for the Excimer Laser procedure.
Laser Excimer EX500
This laser tracks the unique shape of your eye registering your iris like a fingerprint (it actually is unique only to you!). This tracking allows the surgeon to perform an individualized laser vision correction treatment that is as clear and crisp as possible. This machine has superior safety mechanisms that track your eye through the entire procedure to ensure no errors. If there is any deviation the machine will immediately stop. You are asked to look at a green target light so the laser can begin it’s process by applying computer-controlled pulses of light energy to reshape the cornea.
The Excimer Laser is also used in PRK and LASEK which are both different from LASIK in that LASIK does its procedure under the flap while PRK and LASEK do their procedures on the surface of the cornea. You can investigate the pros and cons of each on your own, but LASIK is known to have a shorter healing time and allows you to resume normal activities sooner.
After the Surgery, Post-Op
I was told by many sources that people who had LASIK saw improvements in their vision immediately following surgery. I did not want to set myself up with any expectations; after all, surgery of any kind is nerve-racking enough. I was sent home with protective lenses taped to my face to protect my eyes. I was told to rest and not do anything that would require the use of my eyes, especially looking at screens of any kind—television, computer, smartphone, etc. I did what I was told and applied the eye drops routinely. There was not much to do but sleep. The next morning I decided to check my vision and I could see things in the distance very well. My immediate surroundings were a bit out of focus. This changed daily as I kept following the doctor’s orders. I had surgery on Saturday and I was back at work on Monday. My only discomforts were dry eyes which were relieved with drops and the glare from headlights while driving at night.
My first visit back to the doctor was the morning after surgery just to ensure the healing process was going smoothly. My second visit was a week later and my eyes had shown marked improvement. My original sight was 20/200 with astigmatism in one eye. I was now seeing 20/20 with both eyes and 20/25 with one eye and I had no astigmatism. I purchased a pair of generic reading glasses to get me through the first few months until my eyes completely healed and my vision was set. Reading glasses were necessary for anything within an arm’s length of my face.
The general timetable for your vision to stabilize is as follows:
- Your vision is showing improvement in 24 hours
- Your vision is pretty stable at two weeks
- Your full vision is set at about 3 months, but could take up to 6 months
Keep in mind that everyone is different. I could not see 20/20 when I first stepped out of the doctor’s office like some others claimed. It’s now been ten weeks and my nearsightedness has improved to 20/20, my astigmatism is gone, and my farsightedness has improved as well. I am still wearing reading glasses, but my vision is still fluctuating between only needing them for something as small as my iPhone to needing them for reading on my larger iPad.
I deliberated for many years about corrective eye surgery due to costs, fears, and some outdated medical advice. Now that I finally had the procedure done, I am really glad that I did. My vision is more clear than it ever had been with corrective lenses and now I can wear any sunglasses I choose.
The outdated medical advice I had previously received was quickly dispelled during my consultations, but it did give me great questions to ask. My fears about the procedure dissipated over time. This surgery was nothing like having a C-Section or Gall Bladder removal and the environment was much warmer than a sterile hospital. My desire to improve my vision also began to outweigh my fear of “things coming at my eye” and the possible side effects which were now statistically very low. As I inched my way closer to committing to surgery, the only thing standing in my way was cost which is a big factor. The last visit to my optometrist was the final push I needed. The cost for my new progressive lenses was $700 and they were not covered by insurance (which, by the way, barely covered anything to begin with). It was no longer a question of cost if I was paying $700 for glasses that would have a general life expectancy of two years, if not lost or damaged first.
My choice of surgeon came down to patient reviews, appointment availability, and financing opportunity. All of the doctors I met with for consultations had excellent reviews and numerous client testimonials. The one I chose had the highest reviews (they were all very close), but it was the other factors that sealed the deal. The doctor I chose was the only one that wasn’t working out of multiple locations and, therefore, was much more accessible. I’m pretty sure this was also the reason this doctor received the highest reviews. Many testimonials mentioned how much they appreciated evening and Saturday appointments. You will need to plan on several visits so this is an important factor if you work full time or have other commitments. The last factor of financing opportunities required more in depth research. All of the doctors offered financing through an outside company, but I also found financing directly through the doctor I chose. This company allowed me to choose the size of my initial payment to lower the length of my term and there were more finance rate options. (Note: LASIK is considered a cosmetic procedure and most, if not all, insurance companies will not cover the cost.)
Most importantly, I felt comfortable with the staff and the surgeon. No question went unanswered and I was never rushed into any decisions. I received numerous hand outs on the procedure and a biography of my surgeon to get to know him better.
Some additional things to note:
I found many companies offering LASIK for much less in their advertising. Do your homework. When I looked further into these prices they did not include the necessary components I would need. Once you were hooked into their spiel, you would be adding on services and would end up paying even more in the long run. My procedure cost a total of $3800, but included everything associated with the surgery including all of the post-op visits (four) and a lifetime assurance guarantee. They even gave me a coupon so my prescription eye drops for post-op care cost me nothing at the pharmacy.
I hope you learned something about LASIK and this post was helpful in answering any questions if you were researching the procedure for yourself.