Friday, April 13, 2012

Is LASIK safe? Questions linger amid horror stories in the news and experts advocating on both sides

LASIK is vision correction through laser surgery.  Millions of people have had it done.  But there are lingering questions about its safety and side effects. There are also many stories emerging of people who have had their lives ruined by LASIK surgery.

If the people we see at Vision Source Vancouver Optometrists are any indication, most people who have laser vision correction, be it LASIK or PRK, are satisfied with the results.  That is not to say that they have no side effects. 

Dry eye is a common side effect of the procedure (among others like halo's starbursts, double vision and more) and many people experience dry eye for years.  However, they are able to manage their dry eye by using drops or prescription dry eye medications.  And for people whose glasses prescription was very high and were essentially debilitated without glasses, the side effects of LASIK are a price they are willing to pay for the benefits of the procedure.  Compared to their horrible pre-LASIK eyesight, many these patients view the LASIK side effects as a minor, manageable nuisance. 

However, every optometrist has heard form some people for whom LASIK was a disaster.  One patient at our clinic was unable to work following LASIK.  He lost his job.  His eyes were so painfully dry that he need to use drops every few minutes.   While horror stories like this appear to be far outweighed by satisfied patients, people thinking of LASIK should hear both sides of the story.  In the interests providing a balanced view of LASIK, here are some news reports that do a good job of exploring both sides.

Dianne Sawyer interviewed Dr. Morris Wexler, a former FDA official who was involved in approving the procedure back in the mid-1990's.  He now regrets that decision, saying that the procedure should never have been approved by the FDA:

 Here is another ABC News report on the problems with LASIK:

Katie Couric of CBS news also reports of debilitating side effects from LASIK and we hear from patients who say that LASIK ruined their lives. A CBS reporter also spoke with an ophthalmologist who thinks that LASIK is a terrible idea.

While most people are satisfied wtih LASIK, there can and are problems which can be very serious and can ruin your life.  Medical ethics and common sense demand that patients contemplating LASIK must have a clear appreciation of the risks and side effects of the procedure so that they can make an informed decision that is in accord with their own values, interests and desires. 

Patients also need to be informed of the non-surgical alternatives to LASIK.  Yes, there are are other ways to get out of glasses and contact lenses that do not involve surgery.  One option is orthokeratology, which involves wearing a comfortable eye retainer during sleep and having clear vision the next day without the need for surgery, glasses or contact lenses.