How Safe is Laser Eye Surgery?

Laser eye surgery is the most common elective surgery currently being performed with over one million people worldwide undergoing the procedure each year. Laser eye surgery has actually been around a lot longer than most people realize with the first procedure actually being carried out over 25 years ago. Refractive surgery, which relates to any surgery which corrects people’s vision has actually been carried out for over 30 years but this was not performed using a laser.

As you would expect, the techniques involved with the surgery have been improved and refined over the years and the technology behind laser eye surgery is unrecognizable from what it was when the procedure was first carried out. The main advancements have come with the laser themselves which are now extremely accurate and reliable, meaning the results of the surgery are very consistent.

The surgeons themselves have also significantly improved and laser eye surgeons are now regulated, which was not the case when the procedure first started being performed. Laser eye surgery is now considered to be an extremely safe procedure with a very low risk of complications.

Although there is variation between surgeons, a respectable complication rate is generally accepted to be around 0.1% of all procedures carried out. This means that only 1 in 1000 laser eye surgery procedures result in any sort of complication. You may be reading this thinking that 1 in 1000 procedures is actually too big a risk to take, but it is important to realize that the vast majority of the complication that do occur can be easily rectified by your surgeon, meaning you end up with perfect vision anyway.

When you are considering the risks of laser eye surgery it is probably better to think of them in terms of the likelihood of there being a complication which the surgeon is unable to rectify to a satisfactory conclusion. Again there will be variation between different surgeons but this figure averages out at about 1 in 25,000 procedures. If you are unlucky enough to fall into this category then there is a chance that your vision may actually be worse than it was before surgery.

A commonly asked question about laser eye surgery is what are the chances of going blind following the procedure? The easiest way to answer this is to say that to date no one has ever gone blind as a result of the surgery and most surgeons estimate the risk of blindness to be about 1 in 5 million procedures; which is about the same chance of dying in a plane crash!

Most of the complications of laser eye surgery are relatively minor and include things such as dry eyes and night vision problems. Complications such as these are becoming far less common as the laser technology continues to improve. What’s more, such complications generally improve to the point of resolution over the first 6 months following surgery as the eyes heal.

In summary, while there are risks involved with the procedure, laser eye surgery is generally considered to be extremely safe. The biggest disappointment following laser eye surgery is generally experienced when people’s expectations are too high and it is important that such expectations are managed by the surgeon. It is also important that your surgeon explains exactly what you can expect following surgery as it is when people experience things that they were not expecting that they are likely to be disappointed.

A good example of this is that people who are having laser eye surgery to correct their near sightedness may find that their reading vision is actually worse following the surgery than it was before. Such people’s distance vision will be massively improved which is the reason they had the surgery in the first place, but if it was not explained that their reading vision could be worse following the procedure, then they may perceive the surgery as a failure. If this was fully explained to your prior to surgery then you are unlikely to be disappointed. The single most important factor in having a successful surgery is in choosing a surgeon who you feel comfortable with and one that has the necessary experience to deal with any complications should they arise.

This post was written by Tim Harwood, A laser trained Optometrist from the UK. In addition to his clinical practice ,Tim also provides information for his own website TreatmentSaver – Laser eye surgery which covers all aspects of laser eye surgery including both the cost and risks of the procedure.

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