- By 2000, 1.4 million people a year were getting LASIK surgery, but that number has dropped over the past decade.
- LASIK doesn’t ensure 20/20 vision and results may become less effective as a person ages.
- The cost of the surgery is also a barrier, along with long-term issues like reduced night vision.
For decades, LASIK eye surgery has been considered highly effective, with a low risk of complications. If you’re looking to correct your vision, it may seem like an easy choice.
Yet plenty of doctors still wear glasses. Some curious LASIK candidates have even taken to social media about the apparent contradiction, wondering why more healthcare professionals don’t take advantage of the quick and easy fix.
So why do so many people in healthcare — even optometrists and ophthalmologists — seem to opt out of surgical vision correction? The answer requires debunking some common myths and misconceptions. Insider spoke with three eye doctors about why LASIK isn’t the right choice for everyone and what to expect from the procedure.
What does LASIK entail?
Laser-assisted In Situ Keratomileusis, or LASIK, is a vision-correction procedure that has been FDA-approved for over 25 years. A trained eye surgeon uses a laser to permanently reshape your cornea, the clear membrane in front of your eye. The procedure is quick, requiring just five to 10 minutes per eye. People can typically resume their normal activities within a day or two.
The surgery promises a high efficacy rate for both nearsighted vision, or myopia, and far-sighted vision, known as hyperopia. The exact success rate is hard to pin down, but the generally agreed-upon statistic is that over 90% of appropriately screened candidates achieve excellent long-distance vision without glasses or contact lenses.
Despite the high success rate and a low risk of complications, public interest in LASIK seems to have waned recently. By 2000, about 1.4 million people a year received the surgery, a 2021 study found. That number remained steady until the past decade, when the number of procedures dropped to between 600,000 and 800,000 a year, which the study’s author attributed mainly to economic factors.
Here are five common misconceptions about LASIK:
Having LASIK means you won’t ever need glasses again
Dr. Brad Boyle, an optometrist and the owner of a private practice, said the biggest misconception people have about LASIK is that they will never need glasses again — something he says is “100% not the case.”
Boyle said that anyone considering LASIK should know that they aren’t going to have perfect vision for the rest of their lives at all distances. While their vision may be 20/20, it still won’t be as clear as their vision was when wearing glasses. LASIK is considered successful if the person no longer needs glasses for most tasks. Some might still prefer to wear glasses.
Results from LASIK last forever
The changes that LASIK makes to your cornea are permanent, but your eyesight will most likely still change with age.
There’s also the fact that LASIK is meant to address nearsightedness — the most common reason for getting it — but that won’t stop the natural progression of farsightedness. “I always tell people that LASIK will get rid of glasses for the distance. However, the near vision will need to be corrected with reading glasses or OTC cheaters at some point in your life,” Boyle said.
Everyone is a good candidate for LASIK
“Your suitability for LASIK depends on a stable prescription and overall eye health,” Dr. Jennifer Tsai, a Manhattan-based optometrist said. An eye surgeon should do a comprehensive health evaluation to determine if you are a good candidate or not.
However, not all LASIK surgeons will vet their patients as rigorously as others. Dr. Saya Nagori a glaucoma surgeon from College Park, Maryland, recommended getting opinions from several surgeons before scheduling the surgery. “If your eyes are well-suited for LASIK, then in an ideal situation, all doctors will agree that you are in fact a good candidate to undergo the procedure,” she said.
There are several contraindications for getting LASIK, including glaucoma, certain corneal abnormalities, and “refractive instability,” which refers to changes to your prescription strength in the last year. People who are pregnant, nursing, or have uncontrolled diabetes are also ruled out from the procedure.
Doctors don’t worry about complications or the cost
Two of the main reasons people decide not to have LASIK are complications and cost. One might assume that doctors are well versed in the encouraging medical literature that shows how unlikely complications are. And when it comes to the bill, doctors earn more than the typical American salary, so it seems like the out-of-pocket cost, an average of $2,000 per eye, shouldn’t be a factor.
But it’s important to keep in mind that just like with any surgery, there’s still a small chance of complications.
Long-term complications include dry eyes, light sensitivity, glare, reduced night vision, and a rare possibility of corneal scarring or infection. Doctors need to trust the quality of their vision to perform their medical duties, so some may be especially reluctant to engage with these risks.
Most people Boyle sees aren’t in a financial position to consider LASIK — which isn’t covered by insurance — until they hit middle age. By that time, many people might need reading glasses, meaning that they will need glasses for everyday tasks even if they get LASIK. At that point, many people who could get LASIK — including doctors starting to get out from under the burden of their student-loan debt — simply opt out.