Like other organs and parts of the body, eyes age and weaken over time. Myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism are among the most frequent vision disorders humans face as they age. Glaucoma, cataracts, and many others can plague one’s vision in various periods of life.
Glasses, contact lenses, and eye drops are most commonly used to treat the problem and make life easier for people suffering from vision loss or impairment. These century-old methods remain the most prevalent well into the 21st century.
There are also laser treatments, LASIK being among the most prominent, which can offer actual improvement and long-lasting effects. However, they are still far more expensive than the traditional methods, making them unavailable to some patients.
If you are considering a laser intervention, continue reading to find out how long does LASIK last and what are the possible complications down the road.
WHAT IS LASIK SURGERY?
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LASIK, short for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, is one of several types of refractive surgery. It is a process of reshaping the eye’s cornea with a microkeratome or a laser. LASIK is performed by an ophthalmologist and is used to improve visual acuity.
The procedure is similar to PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) and LASEK (laser epithelial keratomileusis) in that all three are used to reshape the cornea. PRK and LASEK use laser ablation to permanently reshape the anterior central cornea and repair serious damage. On the other hand, LASIK is used in less severe cases and on patients with thinner corneas.
There are two main types of LASIK surgery – wave-front and topography-assisted. The former has been in use longer and is still more prevalent. It utilizes a wave-front sensor to measure the cornea and assist the computer-controlled excimer laser. The success of the operation depends heavily on the precision of the sensor and the doctor’s ability to predict the changes that might take place during the recovery period.
On the other hand, topography-assisted LASIK procedure is aimed at the reduction of side effects, especially night vision side effects. The FDA approved the first topography-assisted lasers in September 2013.
WHAT IS LASIK SURGERY USED FOR?
LASIK is used to correct the effects of some of the most common vision disorders. The list includes:
- Also known as far-sightedness, hyperopia is one of the most prevalent vision problems. The light is not focused on the retina like in a healthy eye, but behind it. This causes objects near the eye to appear blurry. Eye strain and headaches are common side effects.
- In case of short-sightedness (common name for myopia), the light is focused in front of the retina instead of on it. Consequently, far objects appear blurry. Headaches and eye strain might accompany the disorder.
- An eye affected with astigmatism can’t focus light on the retina as evenly as a healthy eye does, causing blurry vision at both short and long ranges. Like the previous two disorders, astigmatism can be accompanied by eye strain and headaches.
HOW LONG DOES LASIK LAST?
In most cases, LASIK provides a permanent effect. That being said, complications can happen over time and some patients might need an enhancement (a second LASIK intervention). Luckily, the percentage of patients needing additional interventions is small enough to safely say that LASIK permanently improves vision.
Though it has a permanent effect, LASIK can’t stop the aging of the eyes, as well as the onset of presbyopia and its effects after the age of 40. Presbyopia is the weakening of the lens of the eye. As a result, the eye loses the ability to focus on nearby objects.
However, the age at which you undergo a LASIK intervention can have a significant effect on further development of your eyesight. Roughly, patients can be divided into two age groups – 18 to mid/late-30s and 40+. Here’s a quick overview of what both groups can expect from a LASIK treatment.
- 18 to mid-30. Due to their young age, patients in this group tend to have healthier eyes and overall better vision. Their eyes have accumulated less damage and can recover faster. In turn, LASIK can have a stronger and longer-lasting positive effect. Likewise, patients in their 20s and 30s have a lesser chance of needing a corrective intervention or going back to using glasses and lenses before presbyopia kicks in. On the flipside, younger patients are less likely to undergo the treatment due to it being expensive.
- 40+. Patients over the age of 40 can hope to experience the same level of improvement as their younger counterparts. Older patients might still require glasses for reading and driving at night in months following the surgery. Also, the effects of presbyopia will kick in faster and hit harder the older the patient is. It should be noted that the LASIK treatment doesn’t protect from glaucoma and cataracts. These conditions affect other parts of the eye, the lens and the eye nerve, respectively.
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONS AND RISKS
LASIK interventions are generally safe and patients rarely experience long-lasting or severe side-effects and complications. However, among the recorded cases, dry eye syndrome and seeing starbursts and halos at night account for the vast majority of complications.
It is very common to experience dry eyes in days and weeks following a LASIK intervention. However, the symptoms tend to go away as the eye heals, leaving no permanent damage. While usually temporary in nature, symptoms can develop into a full-blown, chronic dry eye syndrome. This condition can significantly affect the patient’s quality of life.
Patients who develop dry eye syndrome after LASIK are usually prescribed artificial tears or punctual occlusion. In the case of punctual occlusion, a plug made of silicone or collagen is placed in the tear duct to prevent it from draining.
STARBURSTS AND HALOS
A certain percentage of patients might see starbursts and halos at night. Usually, the symptoms happen around sources of bright light. This is commonly contributed to the expansion of the pupil during the night. In some patients, the pupil might grow larger than the flap and cause stromal changes which, in turn, cause visual distortion.
Aside from dry eye syndrome and light distortions at night, LASIK patients can experience a wide range of other complications. Some of the most prominent include diffuse lamellar keratitis, post-LASIK corneal ectasia, Uveitis, retinal detachment, eye floaters, slipped flaps, choroidal neovascularization, and more.
With the effects of LASIK considered permanent, patients shouldn’t expect their vision to remain 20/20 forever. Like other parts of the body, the eyes age and weaken with years of use. While the cornea usually remains strong and healthy, the eye nerve, lens, and other parts of the eye might buckle under the pressure of time.
Patients also shouldn’t expect LASIK to solve problems and conditions that are not related to the cornea. Likewise, the procedure can’t prevent these problems from happening in the future.