Your Weekly Checkup: Should You Get Lasik Surgery?

“Your Weekly Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

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I have worn glasses since I was a teenager and have often been tempted to undergo a Lasik procedure to get rid of them. After reading the latest articles, I’m glad I didn’t.

Lasik, an abbreviation for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, refers to a type of surgery to correct near (myopia), far (hyperopia) and blurred (astigmatism) visual abnormalities. Ophthalmologists use a laser to reshape the cornea, the clear round dome covering the front of the eye, to improve its focus of light on the retina at the back of the eye.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the first lasers to correct vision in the 1990s. Roughly 9.5 million Americans have had laser eye surgery to rid themselves of glasses and contact lenses. Because of adverse side effects, the procedure has lost popularity for many in the U.S., dropping from about 1.5 million surgeries in 2007 to 604,000 in 2015, but has rebounded to about 700,000 surgeries last year, according to the New York Times.

Complaints of bad outcomes after Lasik surgery date back at least ten years, when patients complained of eye pain, blurred or double vision, with a rare person even being driven to suicide. A recent study updated those adverse events, finding that, while Lasik surgery decreased the prevalence of preoperative visual symptoms and dry eyes, nearly half of the participants reported new visual symptoms after surgery and almost one-third developed dry eyes for the first time. The authors noted that “patients undergoing Lasik surgery should be adequately counseled about the possibility of developing new visual symptoms after surgery before undergoing this elective procedure.”

Most Lasik surgeons maintain that soreness, dry eyes, double vision, and other visual problems usually subside within months, and that the risk of serious long term adverse events is uncommon. A review of almost 100 Lasik articles several years ago found that only 1.2% (129/9726) of patients were dissatisfied with their Lasik surgery and that symptoms like halos and excessive glare may worsen in the short term but improved over time, except in the rare patient. But even five years later, some patients may experience dry eyes at times, painful or sore eyes, sensitivity to light, or difficulty driving at night, according to a 2016 study.

Whether to have Lasik surgery is a personal decision. Before deciding, you should consider that modern lasers have improved patient-reported visual outcomes, but undertaking a surgical procedure still has some perils, especially when attempting to correct a problem easily solved by glasses or contact lenses.

Doctors joke that the only “minor surgical procedure” is that being done on someone else. For me, life has enough risks and unknowns without looking for more; I think I’ll keep wearing my glasses.