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Sep 22, 2016 03:41PM

Considering Lasik? Radish writer thankful for surgery that corrected her vision

By Lindsay Hocker
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Charlotte Observer/TNS
Millennials may be less interested in Lasik surgery than baby boomers are, studies show, but Radish writer Lindsay Hocker is thankful she received it.
Lasik eye surgery's popularity peaked in the last decade, but many are still opting to have the elective surgery with the goal of gaining perfect vision. In the Quad-Cities area, Virdi Eye Clinic and Eye Surgeons Associates offer Lasik surgery, and both report a steady stream of Lasik patients.

The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this year that the number of laser vision correction surgeries per year — a category including Lasik and the closely related PRK procedure — has dropped more than 50 percent, from about 1.5 million surgeries in 2007 to 604,000 in 2015, according to the eye care data source Market Scope.

"Lasik has been around for about 20 years, and more than 40 million procedures have been performed worldwide," says Dr. Carlton Fenzl, cornea and refractive surgery specialist at Eye Surgeons Associates. "In 2008, when the economy suffered a downturn, Lasik, an elective procedure, seemed to suffer a downturn as well."

There are many reasons people see him for Lasik, he says, including convenience, health, appearance and work. His patients have included a person who wanted to be a pilot in the military and couldn't without vision correction, people who no longer can wear contacts and some who simply wanted to be able to see their alarm clocks.

Navaneet S.C. Borisuth, M.D., Ph.D., a doctor at Virdi Eye Clinic, says Lasik involves using a laser to reshape the cornea, the outer window of the eye, which then allows the cornea to properly focus images onto the retina.

The procedure itself takes about 20 minutes, not including prep and post-op instructions. Patients must wear goggles immediately following the procedure for protection. Recovery is a fairly quick process for Lasik, with many people returning to work the next day.

Borisuth suggests asking yourself a few questions when considering the procedure. "What are your reasons for having surgery?," he says. "Are your expectations reasonable? Do you have the patience to work with the doctor if complications occur?"

Complications of Lasik surgery include infection, inflammation and dry eyes, in about one in 1,000 cases, according to Borisuth, who adds that most patients use drops before and after surgery to prevent them.

Fenzl says the most common complaints after Lasik surgery are dry eyes and glare or halos around lights. "We test for dry eye pre-Lasik and treat it, if necessary. If after treatment, dry eye has improved, we can continue to surgery," he says, adding that if there is residual dry eye after surgery, it typically clears up with the help of eye drops during the healing process.

"Over or under correction are possible, as well as the loss of best-corrected vision" that a person could reach with glasses or contact lenses, Fenzl says. Successful surgery also doesn't guarantee 20/20 vision for life, he says. "Your eye continues to age, and depending on your treatment, you may need reading glasses in your mid- to late-40s."

Before you are scheduled for Lasik, Virdi and Eye Surgeons do extensive screening to see if you are a candidate for the surgery.

I am one of those people who weighed the risks and rewards and decided to get Lasik once I found out I was a candidate. My dad had an earlier type of vision correction surgery at Eye Surgeons Associates with great success, so I decided to go there, too. My surgery was in August 2013, and I cried as I got up from the surgery table — I was so excited I could see.

After surgery, I immediately had 20/20 vision in my right eye, 20/25 in my left eye, and 20/20 with both. Prior to surgery, my vision was 20/300 in the left eye, and 20/400 in the right eye, which meant I could only read the big E with my right eye on an eye test when it was tested before surgery.

At Virdi, the cost of Lasik is approximately $3,900 for both eyes. Eye Surgeons charges $5,200 for both eyes and runs specials. I took advantage of one of those, which made my cost about $4,000. Care Credit financing is available at both places, and I took advantage of that at Eye Surgeons, too.

For me, complications were minor. My eyes were dry enough before surgery that I had to use eye drops for several weeks beforehand. I still use eye drops daily, but they are easier than dealing with contacts. Plus, I was prepared for it, so I don't mind.

One completely new thing for me post-surgery is experiencing the halo effect. At night, sometimes lighted objects starburst or have circles (halos) around them, so streetlights and electronic signs take on a whole new look. While researching for this article, I found out dryness contributes to this, so perhaps if I used more eye drops, eventually, it would go away. That said, I am still able to drive and get around safely at night, things just look a bit different on some nights.

Not everyone who has Lasik sees halos, and some people do not have complications, including Virdi patient Alissa Morrison, Miss Iowa USA 2016. Before surgery, she couldn't do daily activities without contacts or glasses, so she made the decision to have Lasik.

"After going home to sleep for the afternoon, I woke up with perfect vision. I have since had no side effects, and can't express how liberating it is not to be tied down by my vision," she says, in a testimonial.

The day after my Lasik surgery, I woke up and read the time on the alarm clock without having to paw around for my glasses. That morning, I drove for the first time in my life without contacts or glasses.

For months after surgery, while snuggled into the covers at night, I would have brief moments of panic thinking I needed to get up and take out my contacts, followed by sharp relief and happiness when I remembered that I didn't wear them anymore.

For me, the benefits are worth the price tag (when broken down into manageable payments), but it is a personal decision, of course. I consider being able to wake up and see right away as a priceless gift to myself.
Lindsay Hocker is an occasional Radish contributor.

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