Laser eye surgery has been a miracle of modern medicine. For over 30 years it has restored vision to millions of people across the world who were previously reliant on glasses and contact lenses to see clearly. Despite the popularity and success of laser eye surgery, there is a natural concern for what can go wrong. It is expected that each person wants to know their own risks prior to undergoing surgery.
It’s a simple fact that all surgery carries an element of risk, as does laser vision correction. However, the risk of a serious sight-threatening problem with any form of laser eye surgery is considered rare, at less than 1 in 5000 cases. Statistics aside, it’s a good idea to be aware of the risks so that you can help prevent them from occurring to you.
Choosing the right laser surgery procedure
Laser eye surgery is undertaken using three main type of procedures, SMILE®, LASIK or PRK. Each procedure has pros or cons in terms of its suitability and risk for each patient. Your Ophthalmologist should advise what procedures you are eligible for and which carries the least amount of risk based on your personal circumstances. Not all surgeons offer all types of surgery, so it is wise to consider all types of laser eye surgery that available to ensure you get the best possible treatment with the least amount of risk.
Complications of laser eye surgery
The following are possible complications or side-effects that may apply to some or all types of laser eye surgery procedures. If you are considering laser eye surgery, it is important to be aware of these so can discuss them with your Ophthalmologist specific to your situation to give you peace of mind before committing to surgery.
Infection is the by-product of any surgery as the body tries to heal itself. SMILE® and PRK surgeries generally come with lower risk of infection than LASIK as they are less invasive. Post-operative instructions for all surgeries include eye drops are designed to avoid infection. It is very important to follow these instructions and attend the post-operative check-ups on schedule. Any signs of infection or pain after surgery should be reported to your Ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
During the LASIK procedure a flap is created on the cornea surface which allows the laser to access the corneal tissue beneath and correct the refractive error. This flap heals naturally after surgery requiring no stitches. On rare occasions, the flap can become dislodged either by the patient rubbing their eye too soon after surgery or during sudden impacts common in contact sports. This is why LASIK is not recommended for who regularly play contact sports. Flap dislodgements are however easily treatable.
During both SMILE® and LASIK procedures a small amount of suction is placed on the eye to keep it still while surgery takes place. If this suction is lost, it may result in the procedure needing to be reset or postponed. Suction loss is rare but can be avoided by being as relaxed as possible and following the doctor’s instructions during surgery. A light sedative is usually administered prior to surgery along with numbing eye drops to keep patients calm and still.
Laser surgery deals with the cornea at the front of the eye which keeps our eyes lubricated. After laser eye surgery, particularly in the LASIK procedure, a period of dry eye can be a side-effect. If you already suffer from dry eye you will be recommended to consider either the SMILE® or PRK procedure which has lower incidence of causing (or worsening) incidents of dry eye.
Under or over correction
Laser eye surgery corrects the refractive error in the cornea of the eye. The refractive error in each patient is different. On very rare occasions, particularly in people with higher prescriptions, the refractive error can be corrected too much or indeed not enough. If this does occur, a second procedure can be carried out after 3-6 months to further correct vision.
Light sensitivity - glare & haloes around lights
Following laser eye surgery there may be an increased chance of seeing more glare or haloes around lights, particularly at night. If you have a high prescription or suffer from a pre-existing night vision problem, the chances of this side effect occurring are greater. Patients who have the SMILE® procedure report a lower incidence of seeing glare or haloes around lights after surgery.
On very rare occasions, laser eye surgery can trigger a thinning of the cornea leading to blurred vision. Patients at risk are usually identified in the assessment phase and are advised against having laser eye surgery in the first place. However, if this does occur, glasses or contact lenses will need to be prescribed to correct vision and a procedure called collagen cross-linking can be performed to prevent further corneal thinning.
Overall, the risks of complications with laser eye surgery are low. If you are considering laser eye surgery, it is important you find an Ophthalmologist that you feel comfortable with and who can answer all your questions clearly to give you peace of mind prior to your life-changing surgery.