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The Lowdown on Lasik

LASIK vision-correction surgery delivers freedom from eyeglasses and contact lenses, the technology is incredibly precise, and it's quick and painless. No wonder nearly 700,000 people in the U.S. opt for it each year.

Still, misconceptions and questions abound.

There are no "one-size-fits-all" answers, but If you're considering LASIK here's some advice from Mark Mifflin, MD, a top refractive (vision-correction) surgeon at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah.

Where do I start?

Schedule a consultation—and be sure it's with a qualified surgeon—to get all of your questions answered up front.

What should I expect at my consultation?

You should expect the surgeon to give you a thorough eye exam and go over every consideration—the benefits, the risks, your expectations, and what to expect from LASIK. He or she will let you know if it's right for you.

Ideally, the surgeon who does your initial assessment will be the one doing the surgery and examining you at your post-operative appointments.

Who is an ideal candidate for LASIK?

An ideal candidate for LASIK is someone with healthy eyes, including thick enough corneas, age 21 or older—up to age 60 (though that may vary) who hasn't had recent significant changes in his or her prescription.

LASIK corrects most levels of nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. Overall, my happiest patients are those who were extremely dependent on glasses or contact lenses before LASIK.

I've heard of people just having LASIK surgery on one eye. How does that work?

Monovision—correcting just one eye—is common. But it's not for everyone, because you have to have one good eye for distance and one for up close. If I think that will work, I first have patients try it with contacts, and if their eyes adjust and work together, we'll go ahead. But if they don't, we'll do both eyes for distance.

Are there other options if LASIK isn't the ideal fit?

Absolutely. PRK is another favorite and successful vision correction surgery that requires a slightly longer recovery time and is better suited to people with a tendency for dry eye or with thin corneas.

Fifty percent of our patients undergoing vision correction surgery at Moran choose PRK and have had great experiences with it. Outcomes are excellent for both procedures.

I've seen people who have had LASIK use readers. Is this common?

For the most part, yes. It's a universal fact that after about age 45, presbyopia begins to develop. Small print starts to seem even smaller so patients will need readers in certain situations.

If I have LASIK surgery, does that mean I won't need cataract surgery later on?

No. When you develop cataracts, as everyone does eventually, you will need cataract surgery for clear vision.

LASIK alters the curvature of the front surface of the eye, but cataracts develop in the eye's natural lens—just behind the iris, the colored part of the eye. A cataract is simply a clouding of that lens and can easily be removed and replaced with a permanent, clear lens. To ensure the most predictable vision outcome after cataract surgery, your cataract surgeon will need all the specifics of your eyesight from before and after your LASIK or PRK surgery, so be sure that information is in your medical records.

Why do advertised prices for LASIK vary so much?

Price and quality go hand in hand. We're talking about your precious, one-pair-for-life eyes, so beware of price quotes that seem too good to be true—because they probably are. There can be hidden costs, so be sure you and the provider are on the same page when it comes to the actual cost for each eye.

Technology matters, too. LASIK and other procedures evolve, and it's important to choose a practice that offers up-to-date techniques and technology. The newest machines are faster and more accurate, which leads to fewer complications and more patient comfort.