How does it work?
If your peepers are less than perfect, the likelihood is you’ve one of three common optical problems:
- myopia (short-sightedness),
- hyperopia (long-sightedness), or
All three mean that the cornea of your eye is warped or misshapen in some way. Laser eye treatment uses incredibly accurate lasers to vapourise a minute number of cells in your cornea, thereby correcting its contour.
There are three main types of laser treatment available, PRK was the first to be developed (in the early 90s), followed by LASIK (late 90s) and more recently LASEK (also called epi-LASEK). The main difference lies in how the eye is prepared for the laser – with LASIK the upper layers of the cornea are removed so that the lasers can work at a deeper level, whereas with PRK and LASEK (which is really an ‘upgraded’ version of PRK) the laser works on the surface of the cornea.
PRK in a nutshell:
- Anaesthetic eye drops are used to numb your eyes.
- A speculum is placed over your eye to keep the lids open.
- The protective layer over your cornea (epithelium) is polished away, using the laser to vapourise the cells.
- The laser is then used to sculpt the surface of your cornea, removing a very small number of cells to correct its overall curvature.
- A ‘bandage’ contact lens used to protect your eye and you’ll be given anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops to use for up to a week.
LASEK is very similar to this, except for step 3. In LASEK, instead of removing the epithelium, it is softened using alcohol and peeled back. After the laser treatment the epithelium is replaced, which means the healing process takes less time.
LASIK treatment works on the same principle of re-sculpting the cornea to correct its shape, but first an instrument called a microkeratome is used to create a flap in the upper layers of your cornea. The flap is lifted to one side, the laser is used to vapourise cells deeper in your cornea and then the flap is put back in place.
Although LASIK surgery is more complicated, it has a much shorter recovery time and is less painful immediately after the treatment. For all three types of treatment, the whole process only lasts about 20 minutes, which is amazing if you’ve spent a lifetime bumping into things and squinting at the telly. If you opt for PRK, your vision may stay a bit blurry for 3 to 6 days and you’ll only have fully crisp vision about 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. LASIK surgery, on the other hand, doesn’t cause the same surface damage to your eye so you’ll blink your way into a clearer, crisper world almost instantly.
Is it for me?
The two different types of treatment are effective for different ranges of prescription; PRK can correct prescriptions between +2.00 and -3.00 and LASIK can correct +4.50 to -11.00. If your eyesight is worse than this, you may still be able to get an improvement in your vision with laser eye surgery. So while you’re unlikely to get perfect vision, you can at least step down from those milk-bottle glasses to some sexier specs.
If you only need your glasses for reading, laser treatment is generally considered too drastic for very small corrections. There are quite a few other situations that can stop you from being suitable, for example if you are pregnant, breast feeding, diabetic or you suffer from cataracts, dry eye syndrome or glaucoma.
It’s also possible you might be considered too young or old to have the surgery. Age limits vary, most surgeons typically rejecting people under 21 or over 65 years old. This treatment can’t fix the loss of vision that comes with old age.
So, although laser eye treatment might seem like a miracle cure, it’s not an option for everyone. Reputable surgeons say that they have to turn away as many as 50% of people who come for consultations, but if you’re one of the lucky half who are suitable, the treatment can really be life changing – no more blurry mornings, no more lost lenses and no more hugging complete strangers in the street.
What are the risks?
Risks associated with laser eye treatment include infections or inflammation, hazed vision or, in the case of LASIK, problems with the corneal flap, such as a partial flap. Your surgeon will discuss the likelihood of all of these complications with you at your initial consultation.