Refractive laser eye surgery is any eye surgery used to improve the refractive state of the eye and decrease or eliminate dependency on contact lenses or glasses. This can include various methods of surgical remodeling of the cornea or cataract surgery. The most common methods today use excimer lasers to reshape curvature of the cornea.
A number of vision problems can be treated with laser refractive surgery, including:
- Nearsightedness – Also known as myopia, a nearsighted eye is somewhat longer than the normal eye. This causes the light rays to focus at a point in front of the retina, resulting in a blurry view of distant objects. Approximately 70 million people in North America – one in four – have some degree of myopia.
- Farsightedness – Also known as hyperopia, a farsighted eye is shorter than normal. Light rays are aimed at a focus point behind the retina causing a blurring of objects viewed up close.
- Astigmatism – With astigmatism, the curvature of the cornea is uneven, causing a distortion of images and objects at all distances to be blurred. This distortion is especially noticeable after dark with bright lights.
While refractive surgery is becoming more affordable and safe, it is not be recommended for everybody. Patients that have the following medical conditions are not good candidates for refractive surgery:
- Uncontrolled vascular disease
- Autoimmune disease
- Pregnant women
- People with certain eye diseases involving the cornea or retina (i.e. Keratoconus, a progressive thinning of the cornea)
- People with an eye shape that may not permit effective refractive surgery without removing excessive amounts of corneal tissue
Although the risk of complications is decreasing compared to the early days of refractive surgery, there is still a small chance for serious problems. These include vision problems such as:
- Dry-eye syndrome
With procedures that create a permanent flap in the cornea (such as LASIK), there is also the possibility of accidental traumatic flap displacement years after the surgery, with potentially disastrous results if not given prompt medical attention.
Those considering laser eye surgery should have a full eye examination.