Is Lasik Safe?
Is lasik going to cause me to go blind? I can't blame you for asking that question. Lasik is a totally optional procedure. You can do just fine sticking with glasses to correct vision.
Lasik has also developed a certain notoriety to it. If you do enough internet searches, you will see conflicting opinions on whether or not lasik is safe. A large and vocal anti-lasik crowd has emerged.
With current lasik laser technology, it has become very rare for people to have issues with lasik. But let's look into what are the actual ways you can lose vision with lasik.
As with any procedure in the world, there is a risk of infection with lasik
If you have a procedure which breaks through skin (or in the case of the cornea, epithelium), you can have the potential for an infection. Lasik is no exception. The good news is that infection after lasik is extremely rare (the risk of infection with contact lenses is actually higher!). Good lasik practices have techniques and cleaning standards to largely make this risk disappear. Autoclaves are used to sterilize lasik instruments. The procedure is performed with sterile surgeon gloves. Betadine antiseptic is frequently used to kill off any bacteria around the eye. The precautions surgeons take for lasik typically exceed what is actually necessary to prevent infection. This has dropped the infection rate after lasik to extremely low levels. It's difficult to measure, given how rare it is, but an infection after lasik is estimated to occur at a rate of 1 in 5,000 to 10,000.
If you are unlucky and develop an infection, fortunately it can be treated. Just how antibiotics are used to treat an infection anywhere else in the body, they are also very effective with infections on the cornea. By catching the infection early and rapidly treating it with antibiotics, you can prevent the infection from causing any lasting damage to your eyes and vision loss.
The cornea can become weak after lasik
A second way people can lose vision after lasik is through weakening of their cornea. This is called corneal ectasia (cornea ectasia is similar to another condition of the eye called keratoconus). Lasik corrects prescription by reshaping the cornea. This process removes corneal tissue (see also How Does Lasik Work?). If you remove too much tissue, the cornea can lose it's structural integrity, become weak and change shape. This change in shape can cause your vision to become distorted.
Over the years, surgeons have learned more about cornea ectasia. Technology has improved our ability to screen for borderline-weak corneas. Lasik treatments have become more conservative to prevent weakening of the cornea. As a result of these changes, cornea ectasia has become very rare with modern lasik.
But even if cornea ectasia does occur, there are treatments which can strengthen the cornea back up again. This treatment is called corneal cross-linking. If you have routine follow-up and identify and treat cornea ectasia before your cornea changes too much, you can prevent any vision loss.
Lasik has become one of the safest procedures around. It is very unusual for patients to actually lose vision with good quality lasik.
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