For more than 2 decades, laser eye surgery has offered many Canadians a chance to walk away from their glasses and contact lenses. Is it right for you?
Laser eye surgery can correct common vision problems such as nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and astigmatism (where an irregular shape of the cornea [the front surface of the eye] makes it difficult for the eye to focus). It is now also being used to help with presbyopia, the inability to focus on objects that are nearby, which a part of aging and is normally corrected with reading glasses.
Canadians can now choose between 4 types of laser eye surgery to correct their vision:
- Photo-refractive keratectomy (PRK) involves using a laser to burn away small amounts of tissue under the surface of the cornea in order to change the shape of the cornea (the front surface of the eye). This change in shape helps you to see better.
- Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) involves making a small incision (cut) through the surface of the cornea (creating a "flap") so that the surgeons can reach tissues below it. Small amounts of tissue are removed using a laser to burn away the tissue. The flap is placed back over the cornea, and the cornea heals readily afterwards.
- Laser epithelial keratomileusis (LASEK) is a variation of PRK and LASIK that involves making cuts to the outer layer of the cornea so that a laser can burn away small amounts of tissue under the surface of the cornea.
- Epi-LASIK is modified version of LASEK that uses a mechanical device to remove the outer layer of the cornea.
While surgery to the eye sounds painful and may make you feel squeamish, it is in fact a fairly painless operation, and does not require a trip to the hospital. It is performed in special clinics by trained specialists, and the eyes heal quickly afterwards, although you may experience some initial blurry vision (particularly after the PRK and LASEK procedures). The LASEK procedure shares some of the concerns associated with both PRK and LASIK. The risk of infection is low.
While many people find that laser eye surgery corrects their vision to their satisfaction, sometimes it's necessary to return for a follow-up procedure to further correct your vision. This is more common after the PRK and LASEK surgery than after LASIK. And it's possible that you may still need to wear glasses or contacts. This is more likely if your eyes didn't respond well to the surgery (i.e., they reverted to their original condition). It may also be the result of inevitable factors such as vision changes due to aging.
If you're interested in laser eye surgery, make an appointment with an ophthalmologist (medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care). Based on your individual case, they can recommend whether or not your vision problems could be corrected by laser eye surgery. As with any operation, there are always risks involved (the risk of serious complications is higher with LASIK surgery, as it involves cutting into the cornea), so make sure you ask your doctor any questions you have. And keep in mind that your health benefit plan may not cover this procedure, so there may be financial considerations as well.
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