By Julius Shulman, MD
Founder East Side Eye Associates in New York City and board-certified LASIK surgeon
LASIK is an elective operation, reserved for patients who want to reduce or eliminate a dependence on eyeglasses or contact lenses. Unlike obvious cosmetic procedures, such as a face lift or breast augmentation, LASIK is not cosmetic, since it improves the function of the eye. In its purest and most successful form, LASIK can be life changing. It can quickly transform a patient who searches for the soap if it drops in the shower, or searches to see in the mirror when getting a haircut, into someone who can drive a car unaided by glasses or contacts for the first time in his or her life.
This scenario is repeated thousands of times every day around the world, making LASIK one of the most popular elective procedures performed on the human body in the world. So how can so many doctors say that LASIK is safe and effective when The Dr. Oz Show talks about unhappy patients?
That is because you can’t argue with science, and science shows that serious LASIK complications are rare. Study after study conducted in the decades since LASIK was first approved by the FDA have shown that the vast majority of patients — as high as 95% — are satisfied with the results of their LASIK procedure. Millions of people around the world have experienced the dramatic improvement in vision that LASIK can offer. These include soldiers, astronauts, pilots and others whose jobs depend on good vision. LASIK is not a cosmetic procedure; it is a procedure that patients can choose to alleviate a vision disability.
Continuous improvements in laser technology and surgical techniques have made LASIK safer and more effective year after year, and there are now new and better treatment options for many of the non-permanent side effects. Patients today need only to look to recent data to help decide if LASIK is right for them.
The military frequently utilizes LASIK over glasses and contact lenses as a safe way for soldiers to see better under challenging conditions. A study of Navy pilots who had undergone LASIK found that 95.9% believed that LASIK had improved their effectiveness as naval aviators and 99.6% would recommend the same treatment to others. This peer-reviewed study was published in the Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery in July 2013.
This is powerful information, but as a patient you still need to ask important questions to determine if you are a good candidate for LASIK. In the end, a patient’s decision to have LASIK must be a truly informed decision, driven by information from the ophthalmologist chosen to perform the procedure. And even if you decide you want LASIK surgery, you may be one of approximately 20% of potential patients who, during testing, are deemed ineligible for LASIK. You must have the right eyeglass prescription, the proper corneal curvature and thickness, and be free of autoimmune and other diseases.
The choice of an ophthalmologist is equally important. Make sure you choose an experienced, board-certified ophthalmologist. Search several directories when looking for an eye surgeon, in order to gather a more complete picture of the surgeons available in your area. Most ranking sites do not check physician credentials, so be sure to research their credentials thoroughly prior to making a final decision.
Whichever ophthalmologist you choose, you should discuss risk factors with your doctor and carefully weigh the benefits and risks before deciding to undergo this or any surgery. LASIK is not for everyone. If you have questions, it may be a good idea to get a second opinion.