If you’re tired of wearing glasses or contact lenses, laser eye surgery could be just what you need to help you see straight again. The term ‘laser eye surgery’ is used colloquially to talk about different surgical procedures such as LASIK, ASLA (PRK) and SMILE. For those considering laser surgery, a number of questions may arise, such as: Am I a good candidate? What does the procedure involve? How much will it cost? Today, we present our guide to understanding laser eye surgery – so that you can decide if it’s right for you.
Is everyone eligible for laser eye surgery?
In a normal eye, rays of light pass through the cornea and are focused at the back of the eye to create a sharp image. People who have misshapen corneas or eyes often see a distorted or blurred image, meaning that the eye does not bend light correctly. This is known as a refractive error and can present as myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), or astigmatism (uneven sight at different points).
Laser eye surgery is suitable for many people but there are some for whom it would not be appropriate. An ophthalmologist will determine whether you are a good candidate.
If you have had a stable prescription for at least 12 months and otherwise healthy eyes, you are probably a good candidate for laser eye surgery.
Laser eye surgery may not be recommended for people:
- over the age of 40 who experience natural age-related vision loss (called presbyopia) and who gradually begin to find it more difficult to read close-up items such as mobile phones and menus.
- who have severe refractive errors (meaning that the eye does not bend light correctly, resulting in blurred images)
- who have an eye disorder, disease or an autoimmune disorder, as these may lead to complications following surgery
- who are under the age of 20 and are still experiencing changes in their vision.
What happens during laser eye surgery?
Laser eye surgery is a permanent procedure that alters the curvature of your cornea. It can be performed in either or both eyes.
There are three laser eye surgeries available:
LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) is the most common procedure. For this, the surgeon cuts a tiny flap in the outer layer of the cornea and uses a laser to reshape the tissue underneath. You will usually be able to return to normal activity a day later. Complications associated with LASIK are rare, but can involve a condition called ectasia, where the cornea bulges out as a result of being structurally weakened. This requires further surgical correction.
ASLA (PRK) involves the surgeon scraping off part of the very outer layer of the cornea and reshaping the surface with a laser. The cornea is then left to grow back naturally. This procedure is used to correct lower degrees of short-sightedness and astigmatism. The recovery time is usually longer and a little more painful than LASIK.
SMILE (small incision lenticular extraction) is performed with a laser that cuts a small lens-shaped disc of tissue within the cornea, which is then removed through a small incision. This method permanently changes the shape of the cornea but is considered less invasive than LASIK or PRK. People with high-level myopia are most suitable for this option, rather than those requiring only minor corrections.
Risks and symptoms
Laser eye surgery has been performed for over 20 years, and as with any surgery, there are associated risks and complications, though they remain uncommon. Most problems occur during the first few weeks following surgery and can include residual blurry vision, dry eyes and eye sensitivity.
How much does it cost?
While laser eye surgery usually results in improved vision and quality of life, there’s no guarantee that you won’t still need glasses. It also won’t prevent the onset of age-related vision loss.
The cost of the surgery varies depending on the method and technology used, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $1300 to $3700 ($2500 on average) for each eye. Private health insurers offer little when it comes to rebates, and while some may offer a marginal coverage, this is often limited to those with top hospital or extras policies.
Since Medicare generally classes laser eye surgery as cosmetic it usually doesn’t pay any benefits, unless you require it to treat a specific eye disease.
Where to go now
To find out more about laser eye surgery and whether you would be a good candidate, visit your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist. You can also read more at choice.com.au.