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What is LASIK?

For centuries, the only option for correcting flawed vision have been eyeglasses, and only in the past few decades have contact lenses become a cost-efficient alternative. However, these are only provisional solutions to a life-long problem. Only recently has a permanent solution to flawed vision been developed. Laser eye surgery, the most common of which is LASIK, offers a lasting alternative to eyewear.

The origin of the modern day procedure comes from Jose Barraquer’s work in Colombia throughout the 1950’s. Barraquer invented a surgical instrument called microkeratome. It consisted of an oscillating blade that would cut the cornea on the micrometer scale. The instrument would make cuts into the outer tissue of the eye, called the cornea, in order to make it more uniform. In 1985, engineers at Columbia University were able to replace the blade with a laser. This made for finer and more precise cuts at varying depths.

The modern LASIK system was patented and approved in the mid-1990’s, but became very popular in the mid-2000’s in the U.S. LASIK is an acronym that stands for Laser-assisted in situ Keratomileusis. “In situ” is Latin for “in position.” Keratomileusis is the process of altering the cornea. LASIK is the only form of Keratomileusis widely practiced. However, it is not the only laser surgery that offers a permanent correction, simply the most universally applicable.

LASIK is most commonly used to treat myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. All of these diseases are due to defects of the corneal layers. The laser is used to reshape the cornea. The cornea acts as a lens that controls how light enters your eye. The more misshapen it is, the blurrier your vision. The laser will smooth out the outer layer of your eye to allow light to enter optimally. These diseases can be treated effectively with LASIK, and surgery options should be discussed with your doctor.

There are a few variables that can make you a good candidate for treatment. In most U.S. states you must be 18 or older to receive surgery. Some states have options for minors with parental permission if the surgery is more of a necessity.

Metabolic diseases like diabetes and autoimmune deficiencies like AIDS may prevent you from receiving surgery. Taking steroids or medications for cardiovascular disorders may also prevent one from being eligible. The most common cause of ineligibility is a disease of the eye, such as glaucoma, cataracts or chronic dry eyes. Doctors also suggest that your corrective prescription has remained constant for over a year. There is also a limit to the surgery. High degrees of myopia or hyperopia may have a lower success rate.

Before the exam your doctor will perform a thorough examination of your eyes. They will also take precise measurements of the shape of your eye. Lab equipment utilizing light rays may be used to get a map of your corneal defects. It is advised to stop wearing your contacts two weeks in advance.

Before the experiment, the eye is numbed with drops. Oral medication along with that may be used for relaxation. A speculum holds the eyelids open while a suction cup holds the eyeball in place.

The first step of the procedure is to cut a flap into the cornea. This small piece of tissue is pulled back to allow access to a deeper corneal layer that will be altered. A laser of ultraviolet light is used to adjust the cornea. Myopic corneas are flattened while hyperopic ones are curved more. For those with astigmatism, the cornea is evened out comprehensively.  The goal is to better focus the light entering the eye. The flap is then put back into place. The procedure takes around 15 minutes and is generally painless.

After the procedure patients report a slight burning or itchiness. There also may be clouded vision immediately after the procedure, but patients report noticeable improvements in vision in less than 24 hours. Within the next couple of days any discomforts from the procedure usually disappear. It is important not to strain the eyes or take part in strenuous work for about a week as this may cause the corneal flap to move. A follow-up visit is required within the following days to clear the patient for driving. Medication may be prescribed to improve the healing of the flap.

The procedure has a very high success rate and a satisfaction rate of around 95%. Patients that had severe defects may still have to wear eyewear after the procedure, but at a much lower power. Some patients may also need a follow-up procedure to complete the improvement. In extremely rare cases, patients may experience light aberrations at night or may develop dry eyes. These can both be fixed through medicines or additional procedures. There have been some reports of vision loss, however you are five times more likely to lose your vision from infection through using contacts than through LASIK. Even though these types of effects are extremely rare, it is important to understand the risks and discuss them with your doctor.