Health Column: Are you a candidate for LASIK surgery?

For the past 15 years, I’ve worn contact lenses to correct my nearsightedness, the layman’s term for myopia. During that time, I’ve noticed that laser vision correction surgery has become increasingly accessible, especially since many doctors now offer financing options for the procedure, which generally isn’t covered by health insurance. 

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the most common form of laser surgery — LASIK (which stands for laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis) — improves vision by using a laser or blade to cut a thin flap in the cornea. Doctors then fold back the flap and remove a very specific amount of corneal tissue using a laser. Doing so “improves the way the eye focuses light rays onto the retina at the back of the eye,” the AAO says.

David Eilbert, a longtime optometrist at North Fork Optical in Mattituck, doesn’t perform LASIK, but he routinely provides follow-up care to patients who have had the procedure. And for the past five years, North Fork Optical has offered monthly patient consultations with TLC Laser Eye Center of Westbury. The next such consultation takes place Tuesday, Sept. 15, from noon to 7 p.m.

“So many patients were asking about it,” Dr. Eilbert said of his decision to begin offering the consultations, which help determine if someone is a good candidate for LASIK surgery, in addition to follow-up care. “In general, the distance patients would have to travel for follow-up care — there are really none [that offer it] on the East End. This has really served my patients well.”

Some people assume that anyone who wants LASIK is automatically a good candidate for the procedure, but that’s not true. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, those with eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, are among the people who shouldn’t have the surgery.

In addition, Dr. Eilbert said, patients should be at least 18 years old and their vision should remain unchanged for at least a year before undergoing the procedure.

There is no upper age limit for the surgery, but “when patients get older they often form cataracts, which makes them poor candidates for laser vision correction,” said Dr. Eric Donnefeld, national medical director for TLC Laser Eye Centers and clinical professor of ophthalmology at New York University Center Medical.

However, Dr. Donnefeld said, “Following cataract surgery we have done LASIK on many patients who wish to be less dependent on their spectacles.”

If you do undergo laser vision correction, keep in mind that certain risks and complications, like dry eyes and night glare, have been associated with it. This doesn’t happen as frequently today, Dr. Eilbert said, thanks to innovations in the way the surgery is performed, but it’s still a possibility.

“Everyone heals differently following surgery,” Dr. Donnefeld added. “The majority of patients have excellent vision the day after surgery, but it is not their final vision. For the first few weeks it is common to have dry eye and glare and halo. This usually goes away by three months following surgery.”

So, will I throw away my contact lenses and get LASIK one day? I’ve thought about it. For the moment, though, I’m on the fence. The idea of a laser cutting a flap in my corneas makes me a little queasy.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

“I tell people that it’s OK to think twice about it,” Dr. Eilbert said.

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