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Seven things you should know about laser eye surgery

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When at eight years old I was told I would need glasses, I was ecstatic.

In the eyes of a primary schooler, it was akin to having crutches or multi-coloured braces – you were seen as “edgy” and “different”. Fast-forward many years and that novelty has long worn off.

Perhaps it was when I went to see a film with subtitles, forgot my glasses and had to get my friend to read each line, eventually giving up halfway. Or when I was on holiday in Europe and had to struggle to pull my glasses out of my bag in time to see the Santorini sunset everyone else saw instantly. Or when I mistook an elderly man for my husband. Most likely, it was probably when my glasses fell off during downward dog in yoga class and the instructor trod on them.

Whatever the case, I’ve been longing for laser eye surgery for some time. The ease of being able to see clearly wherever I go without panicking that I’ve remembered my glasses or contact lenses sounds, to me, like a luxury. Yet it’s hard not to have a few reservations when the words “laser” and “surgery” are involved in a procedure. I spoke to Dr Gagan Khannah at Canberra Eye Laser, and narrowed down seven essential facts about laser eye surgery.

1. There is more than one option for laser eye surgery to choose from.

Dr Khannah says these options include PRK (photorefractive keratectomy), LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) and SMILE (Small Incision Lenticule Extraction). “LASIK surgery used to be the most common form of refractive surgery because there is a very fast recovery,” says Dr Khannah. “It works by using the laser to remove tissue from underneath a flap in the cornea in a precise way. The SMILE, however, is where the eye flap is only partly opened, without having to lift the flap. It is keyhole surgery for LASIK (or no flap LASIK) and leaves the cornea stronger as the incision is much smaller. PRK is one of our older procedures, where the cornea’s entire outer layer is removed to expose the area and no flap is created, meaning it is less invasive by being more superficial but there is a longer recovery time.”

2. The laser part of the procedure only takes about 27 seconds.

While the procedure will take around 20 minutes, it only takes about 27 seconds for the laser to correct the eye during a SMILE appointment. “We nearly always do two eyes at the one time during the procedure,” says Dr Khannah.

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3. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s unlikely you’ll feel pain during the procedure.

“We apply local anesthetic over the eye so there’s not actually any pain involved,” says Dr Khannah. “If the patient is anxious we offer them some oral drugs pre-operatively, but we don’t want them asleep. During the surgery itself it may be a little bit uncomfortable at times so the patient can feel a bit of pressure but certainly nothing painful or sharp. I talk the patient through every step as we go so nearly everyone says afterward it’s so much easier than they thought it would be.”

4. You can be back at work within days. 

Nearly all patients can legally drive the next day if they opt for the LASIK or SMILE procedure, says Dr Khannah. “By the evening most people are seeing reasonably well,” he says. “We do a lot of procedures on a Thursday and by the weekend they are back to normal. With the PRK procedure however, the patient will have a bandage contact lens for the first few days and then it’s a bit blurry for about ten days.”

5. The earlier in life you can get the surgery done, the better.

Whether you’ll ever need glasses again or if your eyesight changes after the surgery is dependent on the ageing process of your eyes, says Dr Khannah. “Once you get to your mid-40s you may be more likely to need glasses to read eventually but it’s largely dependent on the individual,” he says. “The actual laser we use doesn’t determine the change, it’s more dependent on the ageing process within the eye.”

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6. There are a number of factors to determine eligibility for the surgery.

Your optometrist can assist in screening your suitability for laser correction by making sure your correction is within safe range of the laser and your correction is stable. However, there are a few factors to determine eligibility for laser eye surgery, including ensuring there is no history of eye disease, the cornea is healthy and that eyesight has remained unchanged within a year. Dr Khannah says most optometrists won’t have the experience or specialist equipment to determine the final eligibility. “It’s important for our patients to come and have the necessary tests done first, for example if someone is way too long sighted or way too short sighted they may not be eligible for laser,” he says. “We have our staff made up of a team of Doctors, Optometrists and Orthoptists with all the necessary equipment and will do a full check at no cost. We also test to see the patient has enough tissue for us to work with and that there are no underlying diseases we should be aware of.”

7. The chance of anything going wrong during the procedure is less than half a per cent.

Although some patients understandably get anxious about having a laser in their eye, there is actually a very small chance of anything going wrong, says Dr Khannah. “Obviously with all procedures you have to say there is always a risk, but the chance of the patient ending up worse than they are before the procedure is very small, at much less than half a per cent.”

 

To find out more about a free consultation, visit canberraeyelaser.com.au or call 1800 102 020.

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Feature image: Shutterstock

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