LASIK: how safe is it?

No, really, how safe is it?

By Carol Harbers

Chances are, you know someone who has had LASIK surgery, or you may have considered the procedure yourself. Despite the allure of ditching daily eyewear, the decision to undergo this elective surgery is one most people understandably deliberate on for quite a while. So we asked Terry Kim, MD, professor of ophthalmology at the Duke Eye Center, just how safe LASIK really is.

I’ve heard LASIK described as quick, easy, and painless. Is it?

Make no mistake -- LASIK is surgery, and anyone who implies otherwise is not forthcoming.

The surgeon creates a flap in the cornea, and a laser is used to reshape the underlying cornea. The surgery takes less than half an hour, and patients feel pressure, but no pain.

However, that does not mean it is a simple procedure that just anyone can perform. Like any surgery, the experience of the surgeon is the most
important factor in achieving the best results.

In addition to the experience of the surgeon, what other factors are important?

A number of factors are crucial to success with LASIK surgery. It starts with a thorough preoperative exam by a qualified surgeon and staff to ensure you are a good candidate.

The quality of the surgical tools, such as the laser, is also very important. We believe that having dedicated, on-site laser machines in a controlled operating room environment, where temperature and humidity are constantly monitored, contributes to better outcomes in our patients.

We also have two different excimer laser platforms so that we can customize the procedure to each patient’s eye measurements and ensure the best vision possible.

How common are complications?

The complication rate for LASIK surgery is very low, making it one of the safest surgical procedures around.

We perform a full comprehensive examination to identify any factors such as dry eyes and thin corneas that may increase the risk for complications.

At Duke, our rate of complications is extremely low, with the majority of them occurring less than 1 percent of the time, and our rates of enhancement [the need for additional laser adjustments] are under 2 percent.

Who really shouldn’t have the surgery?

Good question -- there are people who are not good candidates for LASIK surgery. In fact, I generally turn down roughly 20 percent of the prospective patients who come in for an evaluation.

Some of the more common reasons include high refractive errors [nearsightedness or farsightedness], dry eyes, thin or abnormally shaped corneas, cataracts, and retinal problems from diabetes.

The good news is that if you do not qualify for LASIK, Duke offers an array of alternative surgical procedures, such as PRK or LASEK, corneal implants, phakic intraocular lenses, and cataract surgery with presbyopia- or astigmatism-correcting intraocular lenses.

What’s the bottom line for anyone considering LASIK?

LASIK is not for everybody, but those who are good candidates can experience a vision-changing and life-changing experience.

As with any surgery, people should do their homework beforehand, and choose a surgeon and facility they have every confidence in.

Want to Know More?

Duke’s surgeons and staff have been delivering LASIK care for over 15 years and have performed more than 20,000 LASIK procedures.

To make an appointment to determine if you are an appropriate candidate for LASIK, call 888-ASK-DUKE (888-275-3853).

Written by Staff for Duke Medicine    |    Added February 6, 2014