Laser Eye Surgery – What are the Risks?

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It is estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that 153 million people worldwide suffer from poor vision. 30 million laser eye surgeries have been performed since its introduction in the 1980s, with around 150,000 UK patients choosing laser surgery every year. With such staggering figures, it is important to consider laser eye surgery as a long-lasting alternative to glasses and contact lenses. But what are the risks and is corrective surgery right for you?

What is laser eye surgery?

Laser eye surgery is a precise operation involving pulses of light directed at the eye to reshape the central cornea and improve vision clarity. It has been developed over a decade to improve accuracy of results and is now a quick, painless procedure.

How do you know if you’re eligible?

People who are long-sighted (hyperopia), short-sighted (myopia) or suffer from astigmatism are normally eligible for corrective treatment but to determine whether you are suitable for the surgery, you should arrange a consultation with a qualified optometrist. The treatment is not suitable for people aged under 18 because at this age, eyes may still develop and change.

What happens during surgery?

Before beginning the operation, you will lie on a treatment bed with your head resting in a moulded headrest. The surgeon will place an eye shield over the eye not being treated to prevent any distraction during the operation. For the eye to be treated, a lid guard will be placed against the eye to prevent the eye from blinking. This should not be painful but may cause slight discomfort.

For corrective eye surgery, the eye needs to be treated beneath the thin protective layer on the surface of the eye (the epithelium). Normally, the laser (called an Excimer laser) is used to create a small flap on the surface of the eye, to provide access beneath. This method is called LASIK surgery.


Laser eye surgery can be separated into two types: LASIK and LASEK and although the differences are slight, it is useful to understand the options. LASIK (Laser Assisted in-situ Keratomileusis) is a more common procedure and involves the creation of a flap on the surface of the cornea which is then removed to allow access to the area needed for treatment. LASEK surgery involves the laser being applied to just the outer edge of the cornea and is therefore recommended for patients with particularly thin or delicate corneas. As the eye is protected by the corneal flap created during LASIK surgery, recovery times are generally quicker than that of LASEK.

A qualified optometrist will be able to determine which surgery type will be most suitable for you.

How can it help?

In many cases, laser eye surgery can create perfect 20/20 vision and for the majority of people, it is possible to discard previously worn prescription eyewear and enjoy excellent vision clarity.  Also, because the laser is guided by a computer, it is precise and provides accurate results. However, whilst the surgery is designed to create permanently improved vision, the natural ageing process must be taken into account.

What are the risks?

Whilst the idea of a laser directed at the eye may sound alarming and dangerous, the percentage of people who encounter complications is very small at 0.1%. This means that out of 1000 surgeries, only 1 may result in a complication.

However, as with any surgery, it is important to understand the risks beforehand. These risks include:

Discomfort after surgery: this is fairly common but as your eyes naturally heal, it is likely to subside soon after surgery.

Dry eyes: this is the most common risk associated with laser surgery. Normally, dry eyes which occur as a result of the surgery will probably recover in around 6 months as the eyes naturally heal. If you suffer from dry eyes prior to the surgery, your optometrist will be able to inform you of your suitability.

Eye lid drooping (also known as ptosis): It may sound alarming but ptosis is rare and will usually be resolved within 2 weeks of surgery without further treatment. However, if necessary it can be repaired with surgery.

Over/under correction: laser eye surgery has been developed over the years to tighten the level of accuracy. Nevertheless, there remains a slight risk that your eyesight will not be perfect after surgery. It will certainly be improved, but you may still require glasses for some situations, e.g. driving or reading.

Corneal infection: as with any surgery, there is a small risk of infection but it can be easily treated with prescribed eye drops.

Regression: Following the surgery, you may find that your vision is greatly improved to the point of perfection. In some cases, however, vision can slowly regress over time. Whilst it is unlikely that your vision will return to its original prescription, it may deteriorate slowly until you require glasses again. If you had a high prescription prior to surgery, it is more likely that your eyesight will regress. By checking with your surgeon, you will be able to find out if you are eligible for a second laser surgery (called laser enhancement) which may be offered free of charge.

So if you are considering corrective laser treatment, it is important to understand what’s involved. Arranging a consultation with your optometrist will reveal whether you are suitable for the treatment and provide a chance to discuss any concerns you may have.


Note: This is a guest post from Victoria, she writes for Direct Sight, supplier of prescription glasses online

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7 thoughts on “Laser Eye Surgery – What are the Risks?

  1. A month ago I noticed my eyes gets blurry sometimes. I hope this is not a sign of poor vision as I don’t want to wear eye glasses..

  2. It’s also best to always get a second (even third) opinion when it comes to any form of surgery. All the more with something as sensitive as the eyes because if anything goes wrong, you could end up losing your sight.

  3. Look how far technology brought us…though this procedure will help one to have better vision, in the end, the yes will still go poor when one gets older. (Revelation 21:14)

  4. haven’t hear Lasik and lasek before thanks for posting this, and wish I wont get any surgery especially in the eye in future

  5. I’ve been suffering from poor eyesight since I was 8, and hopefully I’ll be able to get a Lasik surgery in the near future. I’ve worn eyeglasses for as long as I can remember, and it’d be so nice to finally have good eyesight.. 🙂

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