A Hard Look at LASIK Surgery

Dr. Oz Show correspondent Elisabeth Leamy takes an in-depth look at LASIK surgery and the side effects you might not know about.

Posted on | By Elisabeth Leamy

LASIK surgery is an unnecessary procedure on a very necessary part of your body. Almost no one needs LASIK, though many want it. That’s why it’s important to know the possible risks as well as the potential benefits. You’ve heard about the benefits in countless LASIK commercials. The Dr. Oz Show wanted to balance out the picture, by presenting the risks. Read more on some of the benefits of LASIK by Dr. Julius Shulman. 

More than 20 million people worldwide have had LASIK surgery and many report they are thrilled with the results. But our investigation found this eye operation isn’t the foolproof fix it’s often made out to be. LASIK can have bad results, from unclear vision to visual distortions, from excruciating eye pain to a weakened eye structure.

Every year, an estimated 600,000 people get LASIK, according to the FDA. Those people may be responding to advertising like this:

  • “Throw away your glasses!”
  • “You’re only minutes away from 20/20 vision!”
  • “No more need for expensive contact lenses!”
  • “Have your vision permanently corrected!”
  • “Your eyes will have high-definition vision clarity!”

According to FDA rules, eye centers are not supposed to overstate the benefits of LASIK or understate the risks and yet we easily found hyped up LASIK commercial claims with a simple YouTube search.

The LASIK advertising promises above are not necessarily true. So here’s what all patients need to know about some of the complications of the procedure to make an informed decision about LASIK.

Loss of Visual Acuity
Visual acuity is the sharpness of your vision. It’s what your eye doctor is measuring when you look at those little lines of letters on an eye chart. You may also know it by the numbers. Vision that is at least 20/20 is considered ideal visual acuity. But LASIK surgery does not guarantee perfectly sharp visual acuity – like some of the ads promise – and you might not be able to ditch your glasses and contacts after all. 

For example, The Dr. Oz Show analyzed data from the clinical trial submitted to the FDA during the laser approval process. This data is contained in "patient information booklets" that, ironically, are often not given to patients. It shows that even the most modern laser on the market left 1 out of every 5 patients seeing worse after LASIK than they used to with glasses. Some were left with better than they used to with the naked eye, but not as well as they used to with glasses. 

So how can some LASIK centers offer a "20/20 Guarantee"? That usually means if you don’t receive 20/20 vision from your first LASIK surgery you will either get your money back or they will operate on you again for free. This is often called a “touch up” or LASIK “enhancement." You should know that these additional LASIK surgeries are not FDA approved, though they are perfectly legal. "LASIK lasers are not indicated for enhancements, which are considered 'off‐label' uses," the FDA explained. “Once the FDA has approved or cleared a product for a specific use, physicians are allowed to use their discretion when using the device for a different indication.”

Another variation: some people achieve 20/20 vision or better at first, but then their vision starts to degrade again over time. Consumer Reports surveyed LASIK patients and nearly two-thirds of them reported that they still had to wear glasses or contacts some or all of the time, for either reading or distance vision. That’s discouraging since the reason many people get LASIK in the first place is to ditch their glasses and contacts.

The FDA spells it out bluntly on the LASIK page of its website: “Only a certain percent of patients achieve 20/20 vision without glasses or contacts ... Some patients lose lines of vision on the vision chart that cannot be corrected with glasses [or] contact lenses ...”

Next: Visual distortions, dry eyes and weakened corneas ...

Article written by Elisabeth Leamy
Dr. Oz Show correspondent