This is the most common question asked by patients who are considering laser eye surgery. And for good reason. Your sight is precious and any procedure involving your eyes may seem daunting.
You can be reassured that laser eye surgery is a safe elective surgical procedure. Different forms of laser eye surgery have been performed for over 30 years and the procedure is very well established. Over the years, LASIK, ASLA and SMILE® have been studied extensively and there is a wealth of clinical evidence showing that each vision correction procedure is safe and stella nonna
for people who qualify. The best way to illustrate how safe laser eye surgery is to look at some of the data.
Millions of people have had LASIK
Because LASIK is the most commonly performed laser eye surgery procedure, there have been thousands of studies analysing its safety and how well it can correct refractive errors (e.g. short-sightedness, long-sightedness or astigmatism), which is referred to as its ‘efficacy’.
A 2016 review article took 97 of the best-designed LASIK studies, which included 67,893 LASIK-treated eyes, and analysed their results together to understand the worldwide outcomes. They found that:
More than 90% of patients had perfect results (i.e. 20/20 vision or better, which we call 6/6 vision here in Australia), and nearly 100% had vision that meets the Australian legal driving requirements (6/12 vision).1
Less than 1% of patients lost clarity of vision of two or more lines on the eye chart (known as corrected distance visual acuity)1
Up to 99% of patients are extremely happy with their outcome.1
SMILE and ASLA are as safe and effective as LASIK
LASIK is not suitable for all eyes – different laser eye procedures work best on different refractive errors or corneal features. ASLA (also known as PRK) is suited to people who have thin corneas because those patients are at increased risk of complications if they have LASIK. ASLA has actually been around longer than LASIK, but it is used for fewer patients because it has a longer recovery time. The good news is that studies have shown that patients who have ASLA can expect safety and outcomes comparable to LASIK.2
A more recently developed vision correction procedure is SMILE, which was introduced over 10 years ago for people with short-sightedness and astigmatism. Many patients prefer SMILE because it is keyhole surgery, so there is no disturbance to the surface of the eye. One million eyes have been corrected using this type of laser eye surgery, and there is a growing body of clinical evidence to show how safe and effective SMILE is, including many studies comparing it to LASIK.
A review article analysed data from more than 100 of these comparison studies and showed that SMILE was at least equal to LASIK for safety and efficacy.3
The risks of side-effects and complications are low
Most issues that can arise after laser eye surgery resolve in the short term.
However, it’s important to have a good understanding of the potential risks before going ahead with the surgery. These include:
Over- or under-correction of your refractive error: this means that your vision is not perfect after the procedure. In almost all cases, this can be corrected by an ‘enhancement’ procedure (or by wearing glasses or contact lenses).
Loss of visual sharpness: a small number of people may experience this while their vision is stabilising after surgery, but it normally resolves within 6 months.
Dry eye: laser eye surgery disturbs the eye’s tear film, which can disrupt tear production and lead to dry eye. It’s normal to experience this for a few weeks or months after surgery, but only in rare cases does this persist. LASIK is most likely to cause this side-effect, so people who suffer from dry eye may have ASLA or SMILE recommended instead.
Flap problems: the flap of corneal tissue that is lifted and replaced during LASIK can move out of place after surgery if the patient rubs their eyes, swims or plays sports too soon. You can help avoid this by following your post-operative recovery instructions. Patients looking to resume physical activities soon after surgery often choose SMILE because the keyhole nature of the surgery removes this risk.
Serious complications are very rare
Most people’s biggest fear associated with laser eye surgery is going blind. But you can be reassured by the fact that blindness as a result of laser eye surgery has never occurred in Australia.
Many people think that the laser itself could cause blindness, but in fact an eye infection contracted during or after surgery could cause severe visual impairment (if not treated or managed properly). That’s why it is incredibly important that you choose an experienced surgeon from a reputable clinic for laser eye surgery. This will greatly reduce your chances of any serious complications.
Be sure that laser eye surgery is safe for you
Laser eye surgery is safe and effective for the people who qualify for each procedure. If your eyes are not suited to a procedure, the results may be less effective and you may be at greater risk of post-operative complications.
An experienced surgeon will undertake a comprehensive evaluation to understand everything about your eyes – from the thickness and shape of your cornea to your general eye health – before advising whether you are eligible for laser eye surgery and which procedure best suits your eyes. If you are told you are not a suitable candidate for laser eye surgery, take that recommendation seriously.