Do you understand possible side effects and complications?

While complications that result in a loss of vision are rare, certain side effects, particularly dry eyes and temporary visual disturbances are fairly common. But these usually resolve after a few weeks or months, and very few people consider them to be a long-term problem.

  • Dry eyes. LASIK surgery causes a temporary decrease in tear production. For the first six months or so after your surgery, your eyes may feel unusually dry as they heal. Even after healing, you may experience an increase in dry eye.

    Your eye doctor might recommend that you use eyedrops during this time. If you experience severe dry eyes, you could opt for another procedure to get special plugs put in your tear ducts to prevent your tears from draining away from the surface of your eyes.

  • Glare, halos and double vision. After surgery you may have difficulty seeing at night. You might notice glare, halos around bright lights or double vision. This generally lasts a few days to a few weeks.
  • Undercorrections. If the laser removes too little tissue from your eye, you won't get the clearer vision results you were hoping for. Undercorrections are more common for people who are nearsighted. You may need another refractive surgery within a year to remove more tissue.
  • Overcorrections. It's also possible that the laser will remove too much tissue from your eye. Overcorrections may be more difficult to fix than undercorrections.
  • Astigmatism. Astigmatism can be caused by uneven tissue removal. It may require additional surgery, glasses or contact lenses.
  • Flap problems. Folding back or removing the flap from the front of your eye during surgery can cause complications, including infection and excess tears. The outermost corneal tissue layer (epithelium) may grow abnormally underneath the flap during the healing process.
  • Vision loss or changes. Rarely, you may experience loss of vision due to surgical complications. Some people also may not see as sharply or clearly as previously.

LASIK versus reading glasses

By their early to mid-40s, all adults lose some ability to focus on nearby objects (presbyopia), which results in difficulty reading small print or doing close-up tasks.

One possible benefit of having been nearsighted most of your life is that this condition actually compensates for the presbyopia that inevitability develops as you get older. A nearsighted eye will focus near objects by itself without reading glasses. LASIK surgery removes this near focus because the nearsightedness has been corrected. This means that as you get older you will need to use reading glasses. Many people are happy to trade clear distance vision when they are younger for having to wear "cheaters" for reading when they are older.

If you are an older adult considering LASIK, you might choose to have your vision corrected for monovision, to maintain your ability to see objects close up. With monovision, one eye is corrected for distant vision, and the other eye is corrected for near vision. Not everyone is able to adjust to or tolerate monovision. It's best to do a trial with contact lenses before having a permanent surgical procedure.

Can you go without your contact lenses for several weeks before surgery?

This is usually not an issue, but know that you'll have to completely stop wearing your contact lenses and switch to glasses for at least a few weeks before your surgery. Contact lenses distort the natural shape of your cornea, which can lead to inaccurate measurements and a less than optimal surgical outcome. Your doctor will provide specific guidelines depending on your situation and how long you've been a contact lens wearer.

What are your expectations for LASIK?

Most people who undergo LASIK surgery will have good to excellent vision in most situations, for many years or decades. You'll be able to play sports and swim, or even just see the clock first thing in the morning, without having to worry about your glasses or contact lenses. But as you get older or in low-light conditions, you may still need to wear glasses.

Most people report high satisfaction after LASIK surgery. But long-term results often aren't available or haven't been well-studied. Part of the reason for this is that people are overall satisfied after surgery, so they don't feel a need for repeat examinations and follow-up data is not collected. Also, the LASIK procedure has been refined over time — the techniques and technology is continually changing. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions from the data that is reported.

Keep in mind that even when postoperative follow-up is done and reported, vision is measured under optimal testing conditions. Your vision in dim light (such as at dusk or in fog) may not be as good as published reports suggest it will be.

Over time your refraction may slowly worsen with age and your vision may not be quite as good as it was immediately after surgery. This does not seem to be a large problem, but the exact degree of change to be expected is sometimes unpredictable.

How do you choose an eye surgeon?

Most people don't have firsthand knowledge about LASIK or an eye surgeon. A good starting point when choosing an eye surgeon is to talk with the eye professional you know and trust. Or ask friends or family members who have had successful LASIK.

Your eye surgeon will probably work with a team, who may help with your initial evaluation and measurements. But it is your surgeon who takes the ultimate responsibility for determining whether LASIK is an appropriate choice for you, who confirms the measurements to guide the procedure, who performs the procedure, and who provides postoperative care.

Talk with your eye surgeon about your questions and concerns and how LASIK will benefit you. He or she can help you understand the benefits and limitations of surgery.

The final decision

When it comes to LASIK eye surgery, there are no right answers. Carefully consider the factors outlined here, weigh your preferences and risk tolerance, and make sure you have realistic expectations. Talk to an eye surgeon in whom you feel confident and get your questions answered. In the end, if it feels right, then proceed, but if it doesn't, don't rush into anything.

March 07, 2017 See more In-depth