Lasik is one of the most talked about laser vision correction procedures in the United States. But is it the only option to put down the prescription glasses? We checked in with Dr. Kathryn Hatch, a specialist in the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Service at Mass. Eye and Ear and Medical Director of our Waltham location, to find out more about the latest technologies available for laser vision correction.
What is laser vision correction?
Laser vision correction treats nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism to reduce a patient’s dependence on prescription lenses.
Until very recently, ophthalmologists had two methods for correcting vision through laser treatments – LASIK, which offers a swift recovery time, and surface procedures such as PRK (photorefractive keratectomy), an alternative to LASIK for patients who may not be ideal LASIK candidates. A new technology, SMILE, has recently entered the field following FDA approval in September of 2016 — giving patients another option to consider.
- LASIK is known for its high efficacy rate and fast recovery time. Most patients are candidates for LASIK, and many have had a positive experience with the procedure that involves creating a flap in the cornea.
- Surface procedures, such as PRK, is the most common alternative to LASIK. PRK may be a better option for patients who have a high prescriptions, thin or somewhat irregular corneas or may not be ideal LASIK candidates. The outcomes of PRK and LASIK procedures are comparable, with PRK having a longer recovery time and more visual fluctuations in the first few weeks.
- SMILE, Small Incision Lenticule Extraction, is a recent innovation in laser vision correction. This procedure involves lasering and removing a small wedge of tissue from the cornea, rather than creating a flap or altering the surface. SMILE is gentle, requires the use of a very small incision, and is proven and fast. SMILE will likely be considered the closest alternative to LASIK. The results and recovery time are comparable to LASIK, and the procedure might have some additional advantages such as fewer complaints about dry eye.
Dr. Hatch says that patients considering laser surgery need to be at least 18 years-old, because younger eyes might still be changing.
She has noticed a trend in her patients of a particular age range, “the most common age for vision correction is actually mid-forties, which may surprise some people.”
How long is the procedure and recovery process?
You will find yourself in the ophthalmologist’s office for a few hours for all of these procedures, but most of this is just preparation time. Patients are typically in the laser suite for only twenty to thirty minutes, depending on the procedure, and can expect to not feel any discomfort. Eye drops, shields and instructions are given to the patient and they are sent home the same day.
Patients of LASIK and SMILE typically are able to continue daily life activities the very next day. The first four to six hours after the procedure usually involve mild side effects such as scratchy eyes and hazy vision that tend to clear up very quickly.
Since surface procedures remove superficial skin of the eye, called the “epithelium,” treatments like PRK usually take longer to recover from. Patients are required to wear a bandage and contact lens for three to four days and might experience light sensitivity, burning and tearing while the epithelium heals.
How will laser vision correction affect me long-term?
There are some patients who might have to visit their doctor for future enhancements if they notice their prescription drifting slightly. Typically enhancement rates are low, but a touch up is sometimes necessary, and possible, years later.
Dr. Hatch has seen how laser vision correction has had a positive effect on day-to-day life for many of her patients, “a lot of people say they are reaching for their glasses and it can be a different and exhilarating feeling not to need them. It’s a real life-changing experience, especially for people who have been so dependent on glasses for a long time.”
If you are considering laser vision correction at Mass. Eye and Ear, request an appointment today.