Eye on LASIK

The laser vision correction industry is under fire for its failure to acknowledge potential risks.

Eye on LASIK

A few weeks ago I got a prescription for eyeglasses. This is not newsworthy in itself, except that two and a half years ago I had LASIK (Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis), specifically so I could toss away the spectacles I wore for near-sightedness. I understood that at some point I would need reading glasses, but was assured that after LASIK—a surgical procedure that permanently reshapes the cornea, and can correct near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism—I would be able to see clearly for a long time to come.

The problem is, I can’t. And not only is my vision blurred, my eyes are scratchy and as dry as the desert. It takes a good 10 minutes for my eyes to adjust to dimly lit rooms. I also see halos, and not the kind associated with angels.

Yes, before the surgery I signed an informed consent form confirming I understood all the possible side effects, but I never considered the possibility that they might be permanent, and that they would be more than “annoying,” as my doctor put it. And while I could get an “enhancement”—that’s industry parlance for another surgery to correct errors—the only thing I want near my eyes these days is mascara.

According to the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS), the overwhelming majority of the 13.6 million people in the United States who have had LASIK since the first lasers were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998 are pleased with the results. But many have experienced problems similar to mine, and some have reported far worse outcomes.

Indeed, the estimated $2.5 billion industry has recently come under fire for its failure to acknowledge potential risks. Last spring, the FDA inspected approximately 50 LASIK facilities and found that 17 had “inadequate” systems in place for collecting and transmitting data to the FDA on patients’ reports of post-surgical complications (“adverse events”), which commonly include dry eye, blurry vision, double vision, and problems with glare and starbursts.

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