Potential risks and costs of laser eye surgery

Find out how different types of eye surgeries compare

Potential risks of laser eye surgery

The side effects

Laser eye surgery is a clinically proven and established method of treating refractive errors as well as certain vision disorders. Like all surgeries however, laser eye surgery is not completely free of risks and side effects.

Some complications that can occur include:

Over- or undercorrection

Not everyone achieves a complete improvement in vision after laser eye surgery. The amount of vision correction can vary depending on individual conditions. A residual refractive error can remain, which means some patients will still need glasses or contacts after surgery. If this is the case, follow-up surgery to correct the remaining residual refractive error can be considered.

Some patients may report vision disturbances when driving at night

Night vision difficulty

Some people experience difficulty with night vision or driving at night, and see glare and/or halos around lights in the dark. It is more common in the early postoperative time period and it gradually improves in the majority of cases.

Clouded vision

Vision can appear hazy, and this complication is more common among patients who were severely nearsighted.

Double vision

Complaints of double vision after laser eye surgery are rare and usually refer to seeing ghosting in images. This is a characteristic of double vision, also medically called diplopia, when both eyes are not properly aligned or there is a problem with the brain fusing the images into one.

Dry eye syndrome

Dry, scratchy eyes after laser vision correction is relatively common in the early postoperative time period and gradually improves in the majority of patients. Some consider it a part of the healing process. It is usually treated with artificial tears or other treatment options. Patients who tend to struggle with dry eyes before surgery may be more prone to also experiencing it after surgery.  As dry eye can cause discomfort and blurring, patients should be tested for dry eye syndrome before considering surgery.

Eye drops can be used to treat dry eye syndrome
Eye drops can be used to treat dry eye syndrome

Corneal ectasia (bulging of the cornea)

Corneal ectasia is a term used to describe a group of eye conditions that cause progressive thinning of the cornea, weakening the front of the eye and causing it to bulge forward. These conditions include keratoconus, keratoglobus, pellucid marginal degeneration, Terrien’s marginal degeneration, as well as postoperative astigmatism related to laser vision correction.

Ectasia may occur any time from shortly after surgery to years later. Glasses, contact lenses, or even a corneal transplant may be required to restore vision if it occurs. A careful preoperative examination can reduce the chances of developing ectasia after laser eye surgery.

Infection

There is a very small probability of developing an eye infection after laser eye surgery. It is important to consult the surgeon if the eye turns red, is painful or there is a loss of vision. Infections can be cured if diagnosed at an early stage, but can leave serious damage if they are not promptly treated. Prescribed eye drops given after the procedure can help prevent an infection.

Flap-related complications

Flap-related complications can occur after the LASIK procedure because a flap is created in the cornea. These include infection, inflammation, and dislocation of the flap. It is often treated with either eye drops or additional surgery.

Myths and facts

Myth: SMILE, LASIK and PRK are not real surgeries.

Fact: While these treatment options only take a few minutes to perform with lasers, they are surgical interventions with the potential for risks and complications. Consult your eye doctor for more information on risks and complications.

Myth: There is no need for glasses after laser eye surgery.

Fact: The large majority of people who have had laser eye surgery do not need glasses afterwards. In some cases though, visual aids such as glasses and contact lenses, or additional laser surgery, may be required. Presbyopia, the natural deterioration of vision with age, could also require the patient to use reading glasses or have additional surgery in order to read small print.

Myth: All procedures are the same; the doctor makes no difference.

Fact: While the technology behind the different treatment options is reliable, a critical component of achieving great outcomes in your visual correction is the quality of your preoperative consultation and the skill of your surgeon.

Myth: Technology continues to evolve, so I should wait for the next new surgery option.

Fact: Technology will always continue to advance, but that does not mean that current methods will have a lower success rate or result in more complications than new methods. Currently, all devices used for laser eye surgery have been approved and clinically tested to ensure they meet high standards of safety and effectiveness. Technology has greatly advanced over the last decade and is at an unsurpassed level. Laser Vision Correction with SMILE, LASIK and PRK/LASEK, have  demonstrated very high success rates with very low rates of complications.

Myth: I am too young or too old for laser eye surgery.

Fact: Age may be a factor, but whether your eyes are healthy, and you have stable eyesight is a much more important consideration for the eligibility of surgery. An eyesight prescription does not usually stabilize until later teenage years. For older patients, another important consideration is presbyopia, which is the natural loss of the ability to see things up close. There are laser surgery solutions, such as Laser Blended Vision or monovision, which can compensate for the effect of presbyopia. Consult your doctor to find out whether you are a suitable candidate.

Myth: Laser eye surgery is painful.

Fact: Almost all patients describe the procedure as painless. Anesthesia drops completely numb the eye. During some parts of the surgery, you may feel pressure around the eye, and after surgery, there may be some discomfort, but this depends on the procedure and the individual case. A procedure including surface ablation can, for instance, be more uncomfortable than a flap or minimally invasive laser eye surgery.

Costs of laser eye surgery

What role should the price play?

If you are considering laser eye surgery to correct your vision, typical questions about costs may come to mind: How much will the surgery cost? Is a more expensive treatment the better option? Will my health insurance cover the surgery? Are there cost benefits to having surgery over other vision correction aids?

There is no standard price for laser eye surgery. The cost depends upon several factors. Whether your health insurance covers the costs of laser eye surgery depends on regional and individual circumstances.

Many patients consider laser vision correction a long-term investment in their eyesight and weigh this one-time investment against the money they typically spend on glasses, contact lenses and care products.

Together, you and your doctor can determine what vision correction solution is best suited to your individual vision needs and lifestyle.

The more expensive the better?

When choosing a surgeon and a clinic for laser eye surgery, there are several factors to consider beyond the price. An extremely low price or comparison of prices at face value only may not reflect all relevant factors.

The cost of laser eye surgery can depend on several factors:

  • Treatment option 
  • Technology used
  • Severity of vision impairment 
  • Location
  • Pre- and post-care
  • Services included

If laser eye surgery is a viable option, it is important to consult your eye care specialist and your health insurance to talk about the eligibility, the chosen treatment option and possible risks. If you have questions about the costs or the method, it is best to make an appointment for a counselling session for more information. When choosing a doctor, please take his or her experience and expertise into consideration. Together, you and your doctor can determine which option is best for you. A well grounded decision can only be made if all your questions have been answered.

Costs for laser eye surgery may also vary between clinics. Read more about the factors to consider when choosing a clinic here.

Costs for laser eye surgery may vary between clinics.
Costs for laser eye surgery may vary between clinics.

Does my health insurance cover the surgery?

Whether your health insurance covers the costs of your surgery varies with the individual provider and on a regional basis. Laser eye surgery is often not considered necessary from a medical point of view, so standard healthcare plans may not cover the costs.

Ask your doctor and health insurance company when considering correcting your vision. You may find that the surgery can be partially covered or is tax deductible. Some doctors also offer a payment plan to make it more affordable.

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