Thinking about laser eye surgery?

This post is written in collaboration with Auckland Eye. Learn more about laser eye surgery and other eye care services here.

I can still remember being around 12 years old and squinting at the classroom board, trying to decipher what the day’s lesson was all about. I didn’t really think much of it at the time – assuming everyone else was having the same problem as well. It was only through a routine vision check I found out I needed glasses for myopia, or near-sightedness.

I muddled through most of my school years trying to avoid wearing them unless it was necessary because it made me feel ‘uncool’. When I started doing yoga in my early 20’s I shifted to contact lenses because it was annoying that my glasses were slipping up my face whenever I was upside down! The freedom of having my peripheral vision back again was amazing, but contact lenses still have their limitations. They feel gritty if I wear them for too long in humid weather or get hay fever. Sometimes, I lose one up into my eyelid if I rub my eyes too hard. Spontaneous naps with the kids also leave my eyes feeling raw if I forget to take my lenses out.

Now in my mid-30’s, I’ve had a number of friends and former work colleagues who have had laser eye surgery – and they all rave about it.

But it’s my EYES. And LASER BEAMS.

This has been the main reason holding me back.

If you’re also thinking of getting laser eye surgery, I recently did some research on my main questions to help alleviate the fear.

© Ange Noy | NZ Real Health

What’s going to happen?

A laser is used to reshape the cornea – the surface of your eye – to improve vision in a procedure that takes only around 20-30 minutes. The actual laser part takes as little as 20-40 seconds (!!!).

I learned there are three types:

PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy) is the original type of laser surgery. Cells from the surface of the cornea are removed, then a laser is used to reshape the cornea underneath. You then need to wait for the cells to grow back over which can be an uncomfortable recovery process.

LASIK (Laser Assisted In-Situ Keratomilieusis) was developed because of that discomfort. There are two laser machines. The first creates a flap in the cornea, the second reshapes the cornea underneath, then the flap is placed back again so the surface pretty much heals straight away.

SMILE (Small Incision Lenticule Extraction) uses the latest technology to create a disc of tissue within the cornea itself, there’s a little cut made at the top of the cornea then that little piece of tissue is pulled out through the ‘keyhole’; the surface of the eye is essentially not touched so recovery is generally comfortable.

Am I a candidate for laser eye surgery?

You’ll have a consultation to check this but essentially there are a few key questions that help the surgeon decide whether laser eye surgery is right for you;

  • Are you over 20 years of age?
  • Has your prescription been stable for at least a year?
  • Do you wear glasses or contact lenses to improve distance vision?
  • Do you have good general health and healthy eyes?

There are some other factors as well that may come up during your consultation. For example, it wouldn’t suit me to get the procedure done now because I’m currently breastfeeding (it’s not recommended because of the aftercare medications). As a side note to this, pregnancy can alter the shape of the cornea due to fluid retention and cause temporary vision changes. So, if you have a baby on board, it’s better to wait.

I have an astigmatism which means one of my corneas – the clear ‘window’ part at the front of the eye – is shaped a little like a rugby ball, whereas my other one is more spherical; this means one of my eyes is more near-sighted than the other. I wondered if this would affect whether I could get the procedure done but turns out laser eye surgery can correct this too.

As I’m a soft contact lens wearer, I would need to remove them for 1 week prior to surgery to make sure my eyes have a stable prescription that can be measured. This is important; you don’t want to get that wrong!

© Ange Noy | NZ Real Health

Is it going to hurt?

The surgeon uses anaesthetic eyedrops to numb the eyes so there is no pain, although you are aware of what’s going on. For most people, everything will feel normal by the next day including your vision, however, there may be a scratchy feeling like there’s something in your eyes as the cornea heals. Aftercare usually involves prescribed medicated drops and artificial tears to help ease any discomfort.

One of my friends, Bee, had LASIK last year and says, ‘it’s uncomfortable but not painful when you’re undergoing the process’. She mentioned that her eyes did get itchy and dry for six weeks or so afterwards then came right.

Are the results permanent?

Perfect vision can’t be guaranteed, but the vast majority will end up with excellent distance vision that lasts forever. It has one of the highest rates of patient satisfaction of any procedure currently done.

Having the distance vision permanently corrected doesn’t stop the reading vision from becoming a problem when you’re older, so you are probably going to need reading glasses eventually. Having said that there are laser options that can help with that too. Someone told me they worried that having laser might bring on that loss of reading vision earlier, but it turns out that this isn’t the case.

What if something goes wrong?

As with any surgeries there is always some degree of risk involved but complications are rare.

Majority of people achieve 20/20 vision, and over 30 million people have had some form of laser eye surgery done so that’s pretty impressive numbers for an elective surgery.

What’s the cost?

Prices may vary depending on where you get it done. Auckland Eye offers free initial assessments, so you can find out whether you’re a suitable candidate, and at the time of this post and depending on which type of laser surgery is recommended, doing both eyes will typically cost between $5,000 to $6,100.

There’s a great video series and information guide you can sign up for on the Auckland Eye website that gave me a better understanding of what’s involved. I’ve already talked it over with the husband and I’m convinced I’m going to have the surgery once I have the budget and I’m done with breastfeeding.

No more fumbling for my glasses in the dark to comfort the baby in the middle of the night. No contact lenses getting swept out when I dive into a swimming pool. No sore red eyes if I forget to take my contacts out before a nap. I can definitely see why people rave about it.

Bee says she is, ‘extremely happy’ with her LASIK results. ‘Best thing is not having to worry about having prescription glasses on me 24/7 so I can play sport easily again’.

As someone who has worn glasses or contacts for most of my life, reducing the day-to-day hassles with laser eye surgery would be a life changer. What do you think? Would you get it done?

Note: Prices provided in this post are subject to change.

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