Laser Eye Surgery

One of the most remarkable medical technologies developed in recent years is laser eye surgery, or any number of surgical procedures performed on the eye using laser technology.  There are several different types of lasers or techniques that can be used, depending upon physician training and the visual issues that are meant to be corrected.  Laser eye surgery is seen as miraculous by some patients but not every person is a candidate for this type treatment.

The vast majority of patients seeking laser eye surgery are nearsighted, also called shortsighted or myopic.  Surgery works best when myopia (nearsightedness) is mild to moderate.  Severe myopia may be better treated by other means, some surgical but others not.  People experiencing farsightedness (hyperopia) and those with astigmatisms are usually not considered for laser eye surgery but more and more people with these issues are enjoying success with laser surgery, thanks in large part to the continued efforts at improving the technique and adapting it to a wider array of visual problems.

Although ongoing research and development have expanded the number and types of surgical procedures available, laser eye surgery, in general, is basically the same.  During the procedure itself, the laser beam slices through the outermost layer of cornea, leaving just a flap connecting it to the eye.  Once the flap has been created, the surgeon folds it back, out of the way, and uses the laser to reshape the eye's natural lens underneath.  This reshaping alters the patient's visual acuity.  To complete the surgery, the flap is returned to its natural position, where the healing process secures it over time.

Other surgical procedures, used before the advent of laser eye surgery, were often painful and took a substantial amount of time for healing and recovery.  One of the most desired aspects of laser surgery is the reduction in pain and the shorter recovery time.

Patient expectation following laser eye surgery is generally rather high but many patients discover complications that leave their vision affected in ways that were nonexistent before surgery.  Some people see halos or ghosting (double vision) and others develop problems with glare and loss of contrast, which makes the vision seem foggy.  Some patients also develop hemorrhages in the eye as a result of surgery and almost one-third of all patients report excessively dry eyes six months after surgery, according to a March 2006 issue of the medical journal, "American Journal of Ophthalmology.'  In some cases, the dry eye issue is permanent, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It's these post-surgical complications that led the FDA to issue the following statement regarding laser eye surgery:  "Before undergoing a refractive procedure, you should carefully weigh the risks and benefits based on your own personal value system, and try to avoid being influenced by friends that have had the procedure or doctors encouraging you to do so."

FDA approval for laser eye surgery limits treatment to only people 18 years old or older.  Before that, eye development hasn't yet stabilized, making a permanent fix, such as eye surgery, inappropriate and capable of only short-term improvements at best.  To address the changes in vision that naturally occur in everyone, FDA guidelines require a patient's visual acuity be stable for at least two years before undergoing surgery.

After the age of 50, other means of visual correction may be more appropriate than laser eye surgery.  Regardless of age, only a qualified surgeon can determine which patients are best suited to eye surgery and only after a complete eye exam involving full dilation of the pupils of the eye.

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