New year…..New Eyes, with Laser Vision Correction

Lasik eye surgery

Posted on 4 September 2015

Short-sighted or far-sighted and tired of wearing specs or contact lenses? Lasik surgery is the answer that thousands of people in South Africa are turning to – with great success.

Until the 1990s, people with eyesight difficulties had to wear spectacles or contact lenses to correct their vision, but over the past 25 years a permanent surgical remedy has been developed and is now carried out routinely all over the world.

Lasik (laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis) is the most common of the laser procedures. During the surgery, an ophthalmologist uses a highly specialised laser to reshape the cornea – the front surface of the eye – to correct refractive errors, which means someone either needs contact lenses or spectacles to correct their near or distance vision, or both

The most common conditions treated with Lasik are short-sightedness (myopia), far-sightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism, which causes images to appear blurry. Lasik is the most popular method worldwide due to the minimal (or no) discomfort experienced afterwards, as well as exceptionally quick visual rehabilitation.

‘Usually people enjoy 100% vision within a day or two of the surgery, depending on what has been corrected,’ says Dr Dylan Joseph, an ophthalmologist at Mediclinic Plettenberg Bay.

Who is a suitable candidate?
Many people who are short- or far-sighted or have astigmatism can have the procedure. The exception is if they have thin corneas or very dry eyes, in which case alternative procedures would be recommended.Dr Joseph says it’s essential to have a thorough examination by an ophthalmologist before any laser treatment to decide which procedure will be best.

‘I had laser surgery about 10 years ago and I’ve never looked back! It restored not only my vision but also my confidence,’ says Paula Hepburn-Brown. ‘It’s a wonderful feeling waking up and not having to reach for my glasses or put in contact lenses. I remember being driven home after the operation and being able to read the number plate of the car in front of us – what freedom!’

What happens before surgery?
An ophthalmologist examines your eyes to ensure you’re a suitable candidate. If you normally wear contact lenses, you’ll be advised to stop doing so for about two weeks before the procedure. Lasik surgery is usually done in the surgeon’s office and you’ll be reminded not to wear lotions, make-up, perfume or cream on your face on the day of the procedure. ‘Thanks to today’s hi-tech equipment the procedure is safer than wearing contact lenses,’ says Dr Joseph.

What happens during the procedure
The surgeon creates a thin, circular flap in the cornea using a laser. The cornea is peeled back and the underlying corneal tissue is reshaped with an excimer laser, which uses a cool ultraviolet light beam to remove (‘ablate’) microscopic amounts of tissue from the cornea. Once the cornea is reshaped so it can focus light on the retina for improved vision, the flap is put back in place – and the cornea heals naturally. With short-sighted people the goal is to flatten the cornea, while with far-sighted people a steeper cornea is desired. Excimer lasers can also correct astigmatism by smoothing an irregular cornea into a more normal shape.

And afterwards?

You may experience some blurred vision at first, but your sight should be completely clear the following day. Any small vision error that remains is usually insignificant: the main thing is you don’t have to wear spectacles or contact lenses any longer.

For Dr Joseph the most rewarding aspect of performing Lasik is ‘to see a person’s face when I remove the shields after surgery and for the first time in their life they are able to see what only contact lenses or spectacles have given them up until then. I think few vocations or disciplines in medicine can provide that sort of satisfaction.’

The benefits in brief

1. It’s so quick – the procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes for each eye.

2. Laser eye surgery requires only topical (external) anaesthetic drops. No bandages or stitches are needed.

3. There’s no pain: a local anaesthetic is administered to ease any discomfort. Your eyes may feel a little ‘gritty’ afterwards, but this sensation soon disappears.

4. No special aftercare is needed. Someone should drive you home afterwards and you should avoid strenuous exercise at first, but normal activities can be resumed in a day or two.

Disclaimer: Although Lasik will correct refractive errors, just remember that your eyes will deteriorate naturally as you get older. If you’re having it in your 20s, 30s or early 40s, your surgeon will discuss options for Lasik that may continue to give you spectacle independence, even for reading.