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Common LASIK Side Effects
Laser in-situ keratomileusis, popularly known as LASIK eye surgery, is a refractive vision correction treatment for:
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Hyperopia (farsightedness)
- Astigmatism (uneven steepening of the cornea)
- Presbyopia (age-related farsightedness)
LASIK surgery involves creating a flap on the cornea using a sharp blade device known as a microkeratome. What follows is reshaping the cornea using an excimer laser.
The cornea is the clear part that focuses light on the retina, enabling clear vision. Reshaping the cornea enhances its focus on the retina, improving visual acuity.
According to outcome studies, LASIK is a safe alternative to prescription glasses and contact lenses.1 Research also indicates that 96 percent of LASIK patients are satisfied with their visual outcomes.2
After LASIK surgery, you're likely to experience side effects. However, most are mild and can be managed with medication and other post-LASIK care practices.
Common side effects after LASIK include:3
- Dry eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Gritty or itchy feeling in the eyes
- Mild pain and discomfort
- Red eyes
- Glares, halos, and starbursts around lights
- Blurry vision
- Watery eyes/excess tearing
The side effects of LASIK are normal and will improve gradually. Follow your doctor's instructions closely for successful healing.
How Long Do LASIK Side Effects Last?
How long side effects last varies from person to person. However, they usually disappear after a few weeks to a month, sometimes longer.
You'll notice some positive outcomes of the surgery within the first weeks. During this time, you should be in contact with your eye doctor for close monitoring.
Raise all your concerns with your doctor so any complications can be addressed early.
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9 Potential Complications of LASIK
The potential of severe complications from LASIK is rare.4 According to statistics, only one percent of LASIK patients develop complications. These include:
1. Overcorrection or Undercorrection
This means you have not achieved your desired visual acuity. It can be corrected via a repeat LASIK procedure.
2. Irregular Astigmatism
This is when your corneas have unequal curvatures, resulting in halos, glares, starbursts, and shadows. The condition can be corrected via a repeat LASIK procedure.
This involves worsening vision after LASIK. According to studies, about 10 percent of LASIK patients experience regression ten years after the surgery. It can be addressed via LASIK enhancement.5
4. Eye Infections
Although your doctor will provide antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, eye infections may occur. Talk to your ophthalmologist if you're experiencing extreme pain and discomfort, eye discharge, or visual changes.
5. Corneal Flap Complications
This is the most severe LASIK complication. If the flap is dislodged due to eye rubbing or isn’t repositioned well after surgery, it may result in severe visual issues or even vision loss.
This occurs when the laser is not centered well during LASIK treatment. Decentration often leads to irregular astigmatism and can be corrected via a repeat procedure.6
7. Epithelial Ingrowth
Growth of epithelial tissue under the corneal flap. It can cause pain, discomfort, light sensitivity, or blurred vision. Epithelial ingrowth can be corrected by lifting the flap and removing the ingrown tissue.
8. Corneal Ectasia
The thinning of the cornea. The major risk factor for corneal ectasia is keratoconus, an eye disease characterized by thinning of the cornea. People with this condition are discouraged from laser refractive surgery.
9. Diffuse Lamellar Keratitis (DLK)
An inflammation underneath the healing corneal flap. Mild cases resolve with time, but severe DLK may require treatment with steroid eye drops. DLK is more common after bladeless LASIK (iLASIK).
Do The Benefits Outweigh The Risks?
The benefits of LASIK outweigh the risks because of the following reasons:
- Quick outcomes (clear vision a day after surgery)
- 99 percent of patients attain clear vision (20/40 or better)
- Among these, 90 percent achieve 20/20 vision or better
- The procedure is quick and fairly safe according to the FDA
- Reduces or eliminates dependence on glasses or contact lenses
- It’s an almost painless procedure (mild discomfort that goes away with time)
- Enhancements can be made after the initial surgery to further improve eyesight
- No need for bandages after the surgery
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8 Tips to Ensure Your Eyes Heal Properly
Follow the tips below to ensure you heal properly after LASIK:
1. Rest Your Eyes
After LASIK surgery, you may feel some mild pain and discomfort.
Although your surgeon will prescribe pain medication and eye drops to relieve the discomfort, keeping your eyes shut for a few hours can ease pain and enhance healing.
Even if you can see clearly after LASIK, avoid straining your eyes until you recover fully.
2. Follow-up With Your Doctor
Your doctor will effectively monitor the healing process if they see you regularly. A routine checkup can help detect minor complications even when you feel fine.
Your first follow-up visit should be within 24 to 48 hours after the surgery.
There is no limit to the frequency of follow-ups. Patients who develop complications after surgery are advised to see their doctors regularly for close monitoring.
3. Protect Your Eyes
Protective eye gear can be helpful when healing after LASIK. For example, one common side effect of LASIK surgery is sensitivity to light.
You can protect your eyes from bright light by wearing UVA and UVB protection sunglasses.
Sunglasses can also protect your healing eyes from dust and debris, which may introduce germs to the healing flap.
4. Take Medications as Prescribed
After the surgery, you'll use eye medications to treat inflammation and prevent infections.
To help with dryness, your doctor will prescribe artificial tears and other lubricating eye drops. You must use these medications as instructed.
In many cases, you may have to take the medications multiple times every day or every hour.
Failure to administer them that way may result in significant harm or a prolonged recovery time.
5. Avoid Rubbing Your Eyes
Your eyes may feel itchy after LASIK surgery. However, you must avoid touching them. Rubbing your eyes may cause issues with the healing corner flap. It can also introduce harmful bacteria to the wound.
Doctors recommend using artificial tears and lubricants to ease the discomfort. You can also wear goggles at night to prevent yourself from unconsciously touching your eyes during sleep.
6. Avoid Eye and Face Makeup
Even if you're used to makeup, avoiding your mascara, eyeliners, and artificial eyelashes is highly recommended before and after LASIK surgery.
Makeup encourages bacteria growth, thus increasing the risk of eye infections.
Before resuming your makeup routine after LASIK, seek medical advice from a qualified ophthalmologist.
7. Avoid Getting Water Into Your Eyes
Water can be contaminated by bacteria and other infectious germs.8
As your corneal flap heals, any contact with contaminated water will result in infection.
To avoid water getting into your eyes, close your eyes as you shower and avoid swimming in the river, lake, ocean, or pool water until you're fully recovered.
8. Avoid Intense Activity
Activities such as contact sports and heavy lifting can cause pressure in your eyes and affect the healing flap.
Doctors recommend staying away from such activities for about a month to allow proper healing.
Even when you resume under your doctor's advice, protect your eyes to prevent accidental injuries that may lead to complications.
When is LASIK Not the Best Option?
LASIK is not best for you if you:
- Are below 18 years of age
- Have thin corneas
- Have irregular corneas
- Have unrealistic expectations/ uninformed about the procedure
- Have an unstable eyeglass and contact lens prescription
- Have eye diseases such as cataracts that may affect healing
- Have underlying chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and HIV that affect healing
- Are pregnant or nursing
Alternative Vision Correction Options
If you don't qualify for LASIK surgery, below are some alternatives that may work for you:
- IntraLase LASIK (iLASIK)
- Epithelial laser in-situ keratomileusis (Epi-LASIK)
- Implantable collamer lens (ICL) or Visian ICL
- Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK)
- Small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE)
- Intraocular lens implant (IOL)
- Refractive lens exchange surgery (RLE)
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