Understanding Potential LASIK Side Effects
Potential side effects from LASIK include dry eye, short-term visual impairments, eye flap issues, and overcorrection or undercorrection.
Most often, these side effects resolve on their own, though another surgery may be needed to address overcorrection or undercorrection.
Common Side Effects of LASIK
This procedure does come with some risks, but the vast majority of patients don’t experience them. The likelihood of side effects varies from person to person, depending on underlying factors.
These are the most common post-LASIK side effects:
- Short-term visual issues: These include double vision, halos, starbursts, and glares.
- Dry eye syndrome: The eyes are unable to maintain sufficient fluid to keep the eye moist enough.
- Flap issues: These include slipping, folding, and infection. They require immediate medical attention.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage: A blood vessel in the sclera (white part of the eye) bleeds, causing a red spot in the eye. Despite its appearance, it is painless and has no effect on visual ability.
- Undercorrection and overcorrection: The amount of corneal tissue removed during the surgery determines the severity of this potential side effect. Usually, these issues can be addressed in a LASIK enhancement procedure.
The most common short-term side effects are mild, and they normally resolve within six months or so. Long-term or more severe side effects are incredibly rare.
Less Common Side Effects of LASIK
As with any surgery, LASIK comes with some risk for more serious side effects. Again, the likelihood of these occurring is extremely low, as the vast majority of people are happy with the results of their surgery.
These are potential side effects or complications from LASIK that are very rare:
- Flap dislocation: This occurs when the corneal flap is dislocated, which can be very painful. It occurs in less than 1 percent of cases, and it normally happens when the patient rubs or otherwise scratches their eye. Risk potential for this is highest in the day following surgery.
- Retinal detachment: The retina detaches itself from the supportive tissue, a condition that may cause blindness if a doctor does not treat it immediately. Experts don’t believe LASIK causes retinal detachment, but it may be a contributing factor.
- Regression: This is when eyesight gradually reverts to the original state, prompting another surgery or the use of glasses or contact lenses. This is incredibly rare.
- Astigmatism: This is a result of uneven tissue extraction during surgery that causes the retina to bend and set unevenly. It can trigger uneven or distorted vision after the procedure. This can usually be corrected with another laser surgery.
Factors That Increase the Likelihood of LASIK Side Effects
While LASIK works for most people who want to correct their vision in a more permanent way, some people aren’t good candidates for the procedure. People with certain underlying health conditions or some long-term immune deficiencies may not be approved for the procedure.
LASIK is not recommended for people who:
- Take immunosuppressive medications.
- Have autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or HIV.
- Have previously had visual interferences resulting from age, medication, pregnancy, or any form of hormonal changes.
- Have dry eyes.
- Have certain eye injuries or conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and vision-related herpes simplex.
- Have eyelid disorders or inflamed corneas.
- Have larger than average pupils.
- Have uncontrolled high eye pressure.
If a patient with the above conditions has LASIK, they may experience poor healing, worsen their eyesight, or have unpredictable and uncomfortable side effects during recovery.
How to Minimize LASIK Side Effects
The aim of postoperative LASIK care is to ease uncomfortable symptoms while ensuring proper care for complete recovery.
While you’ll receive specific instructions from your surgeon or clinic, these are the most common recommendations following LASIK:
- Apply prescribed eye drops regularly. You’ll generally receive eye drops before your surgery and instructions on how frequently to apply them. These often include antibiotic eye drops and steroidal eye drops.
- Use artificial tears as needed. Eye dryness is the chief source of discomfort during the postoperative period, and these can help to maintain sufficient moisture in the eye. Choose preservative-free artificial tears to avoid irritation.
- Wear sunglasses and hats. These can help to protect your eyes from the sun as they heal.
- Consider eye shields. Your eye doctor may give you eye shields to wear while you sleep. This will prevent you from rubbing or scratching your eyes.
- Rest. Less movement means less blinking and less risk of disturbing your eyes. This promotes faster healing and minimizes strain.
- Maintain good hygiene. Stay away from dusty, stuffy and smoky environments. Aim to debris and dirt away from your eyes as much as possible.
The initial 24-hour period is the most critical part of the healing process. You can usually return to most normal activities within 48 hours.
You’ll see your surgeon 24 to 48 hours after surgery for a postoperative checkup. They’ll confirm everything looks good, and they’ll check your vision.
LASIK Side Effects FAQs
How long does it take to recover from LASIK?
Most people can resume normal activities, such as reading and working, within 48 hours. Your vision will be blurry initially following surgery, but it should stabilize in the following days and weeks. You can normally return to strenuous activities after one month.
Does LASIK have bad side effects?
LASIK normally has few to no side effects. Most people (99 percent), are satisfied with the outcome of their surgery. Serious side effects, such as retinal detachment or flap dislocation, are incredibly rare.
What are common side effects of LASIK?
The most common side effects of LASIK include dry eyes and temporary visual issues, such as blurred vision, double vision, halos, or ringed impressions around light bright sources.
Overcorrection, undercorrection, regression, and loss of vision are also potential side effects of LASIK, but these are rare.
How are LASIK side effects treated?
Some side effects simply improve on their own over time. Others, such as overcorrection or undercorrection, can be addressed with a LASIK enhancement surgery.
Who is at risk for LASIK side effects?
People who aren’t good candidates for LASIK are more at risk for side effects. This includes people who are immunocompromised, those in poor overall health, and people with dry eye syndrome.
How do I reduce the likelihood of LASIK side effects?
Follow your surgeon’s postoperative instructions carefully. Apply eye drops as instructed, and avoid touching or rubbing your eyes until they have fully healed. Rest and avoid eye strain in the first few days following surgery.
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Effects of Variation in Depth and Side Cut Angulations in LASIK and Thin-flap LASIK Using a Femtosecond Laser: A Biomechanical Study. (May 2012). Journal of Refractive Surgery.
Risk Factors for Corneal Ecstasia After LASIK. (September 2006). Ophthalmology.
Benefits and Side Effects of Bandage Soft Contact Lens Application After LASIK. (December 2005). Ophthalmology.
Facts About LASIK Complications. (December 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Late Dislocation of a LASIK Flap Caused by a Fingernail. (March 2001). JAMA Ophthalmology.
Complications of Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis. (July 2021). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.
Dry Eye Post-Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis: Major Review and Latest Updates. (January 2018). Journal of Ophthalmology.
A Multicenter Study of the Prevalence of Dry Eye Disease in Chinese Refractive Surgery Candidates. (March 2021). Ophthalmologic Research.
Last Updated March 22, 2022
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