The most common issue holding back a person who is considering laser vision correction is fear. It is normal for people to feel anxious about any type of surgery. With laser vision correction, patients often voice concerns about pain or movement during surgery and worry about poor vision after surgery. Perhaps most disabling for some is the anxiety of anticipation – meaning they’re afraid of the fear they know they’ll face right before surgery. These feelings are not uncommon and are best addressed with knowledge. So let’s become more familiar with the results of the procedure.
Laser vision correction is one of the most commonly performed surgeries with nearly a million procedures performed annually in the United States. In the largest patient satisfaction study done to date (over 5,800 patients), 95.0% of patients reported that they were happy or very happy with their vision after surgery. 94.2% indicated that laser vision correction had improved their lives for the better. 82.8% stated that their vision was better after surgery than it had been with spectacles or contact lenses prior to surgery. 96.5% would recommend the surgery to his or her friend or family member. These numbers clearly reflect a very high satisfaction rate with the surgery. So while it is normal to have anxiety or fear before surgery nearly all patients who have had laser vision correction are happy with the decision they made.
Pain during surgery is one of the most frequently voiced concerns. For those who undergo surface treatment (PRK, advanced surface ablation, LASEK – see the heading describing these techniques in detail) the procedure is painless for virtually everyone. Those having all laser LASIK (iLASIK or intraLASIK), patients will notice a pressure sensation for several seconds while the flap is being made which is usually mild to moderate. The remainder of the surgery is likewise painless. Both techniques take just a few minutes and patients rarely if ever need more than mild sedation.
While visual results have always been good after laser vision surgery they have only gotten better with time. The latest studies show that more than 99% of patients have uncorrected distance vision of 20/40 or better – the threshold in most states for being able to drive without glasses. Most studies now also report 95% of patients seeing at least 20/20 without glasses and greater than 50% of patients with visual acuity of 20/16 or better. With the development and refinement of technological breakthroughs such as all-laser LASIK, custom cornea wavefront technology, iris registration and pupil tracking technology more and more patients have better uncorrected vision after laser vision surgery than they could attain with glasses or contacts before.
Similarly the procedure has only become safer over time. Pupil tracking technology automatically stops laser treatment if more than 1 mm of eye movement is detected. If movement does occur, the patient can be realigned and the treatment picks up right where it left off. It is always important to remember however that laser vision correction is surgery and no surgery is free of risk. Your surgeon will further explain these risks to you prior to your surgery.
Complications associated with laser vision correction are infrequent and serious problems such as the risk of infection may in fact be lower than with contact lens wear – something that most people consider “safe”.
So to summarize, it is normal for patients to have concerns and anxieties associated with surgery. Laser vision correction is for most patients a positive, life changing event and a choice that they are happy they made. Focusing on your knowledge of the procedure is the best way to alleviate anxiety before the surgery. Visualize waking up the day after your surgery and seeing the alarm clock without your glasses or contacts. Try always to think positively – and leave your fears behind with your glasses!
Source for data regarding patient satisfaction:
Brown, OD, MC. Schallhorn, MD, SC. et. al. Satisfaction of 13,655 Patients with Laser Vision Correction at 1 Month After Surgery. Journal of Refractive Surgery, vol. 25, 2009.
Numerous references for post LASIK VA results. See FDA website, All About Eyes internet resource, Medline for most current outcomes.