What increases the risks?
You're more likely to experience complications from LASIK surgery if you:
Have a condition that may impair your ability to heal. Diseases that affect your immune system, including autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and others) and immunodeficiency diseases (HIV), increase the risk of incomplete healing, infection and other complications.
Taking an immunosuppressive medication also increases the risk of a poor outcome after LASIK surgery.
- Have persistent dry eyes. If you have dry eyes, LASIK surgery may make the condition worse.
Have anatomic concerns. LASIK surgery may be inappropriate if your corneas are too thin, your corneal surface is extremely irregular, or you have a condition in which the cornea thins and gradually bulges outward into a cone shape (keratoconus).
LASIK surgery also may not be an appropriate option if you have an abnormal lid position, deep-set eyes or other anatomic concerns.
- Have unstable vision. You may not be eligible for LASIK surgery if the pressure inside your eye is too high or the quality of your vision is fluctuating or getting worse.
- Are pregnant or breast-feeding. Vision can fluctuate during pregnancy and breast-feeding, making the outcome of LASIK surgery less certain.
What other circumstances make LASIK surgery a poor choice?
You might also rethink having LASIK surgery if:
- You have severe nearsightedness. If you're nearsighted and have been diagnosed with a high refractive error, the possible benefits of LASIK surgery may not justify the risks.
- You have fairly good vision. If you see well enough to need contacts or glasses only part of the time, improvement from the surgery may not be worth the risks.
- You have large pupils. If your pupils are prone to opening wide in dim light, LASIK surgery may result in debilitating symptoms such as glare, halos, star bursts and ghost images.
- You actively participate in contact sports. If you regularly receive blows to the face and eyes, such as during martial arts or boxing, LASIK surgery may not be advisable.
- Surgery could jeopardize your career. Jobs requiring precision vision may make it inadvisable to have certain refractive procedures.
- Cost may be an issue. Many insurance plans don't cover the cost of vision-correction surgery.
What are the other options?
If you're not a good candidate for LASIK surgery but you're still interested in vision-correction surgery, alternatives may include:
Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK). PRK is sometimes used for people who have a low to moderate degree of nearsightedness or farsightedness, those who have nearsightedness with astigmatism, or those who have farsightedness without astigmatism.
PRK removes the thin surface layer of the cornea (epithelium). The surgeon then uses a laser to flatten the cornea or make its curve steeper. It may take three to six months to reach peak visual improvement.
PRK has become less common as LASIK has gained favor, primarily because healing after LASIK is more predictable and usually involves less discomfort and scarring.
Laser-assisted epithelial keratomileusis (LASEK). LASEK is similar to LASIK surgery, but the procedure allows the surgeon to remove less of the cornea, making it a good option for people who have thin corneas.
People who play sports or have jobs that carry a high risk of eye injuries might also prefer LASEK because a thinner flap in the cornea means the cornea will be less vulnerable to serious damage should the flap be torn before it can heal.
Implantable lenses. Phakic intraocular lenses are implantable lenses that are surgically inserted in front of the natural lens to improve vision.
Implantable lenses can correct high degrees of nearsightedness not easily corrected by other surgical procedures.
The treatment is relatively new. Possible complications, such as cataracts, increased pressure within the eye and damage to the cornea over time, remain a concern.
- Bioptics. Bioptics combines one or more techniques, such as implantable lenses and LASIK, to treat nearsightedness or farsightedness.
Intracorneal ring segments. Intracorneal ring segments may sometimes be used to treat mild nearsightedness. A small incision is made in the cornea, and two crescent-shaped plastic rings are placed where the cornea joins the white part of the eye (sclera) on the cornea's outer edge.
The rings can flatten the cornea so that light rays focus more properly on the retina. If necessary, the rings can later be removed.
To make the most appropriate choice about refractive surgery, weigh the options, including the benefits and risks, with your eye doctor. Good results depend on careful evaluation of your eyes before the surgery as well as a clear understanding of the limitations of each procedure.
May 17, 2013
See more In-depth
- Aaron MT, et al. Why preoperative acuity predicts postoperative acuity in wavefront-guided LASIK. Optometry and Vision Science. 2010;87:861.
- Bower KS. Laser refractive surgery. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 12, 2013.
- When is LASIK not for me? U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/SurgeryandLifeSupport/LASIK/ucm061366.htm. Accessed March 12, 2013.
- Mian SI. Visual impairment in adults: Refractive disorders and presbyopia. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 12, 2013.
- Klug SE, et al. Long-term follow-up on intracorneal ring segment inserted for the correction of myopia. Acta Ophthalmologica. 2009;87:920.
- Robertson DM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 4, 2013.