Ballpark Estimate: $600 to $2,500 per eye
Imagine waking up and seeing the one you love in clear focus on the pillow next to you every morning. Imagine being able to wear any pair of designer sunglasses you want. Imagine never having to buy another plastic bottle of lens solution. As stylish as fashion eyeglass options and as ubiquitous as contact lenses are, many people are opting for the permanent, hassle-free option of corrective laser eye surgery. Once thought to be a scary experiment, laser eye surgery has grown in popularity over the past ten years as new technologies and experienced laser surgeons emerge. As the risk subsides, the enticing promise of nearly instantaneous, nearly perfect vision is drawing more and more people into laser surgery centers around the world.
Who Can Get Eye Surgery?
Most common vision issues are correctable with laser eye surgery: nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism are all fixable, often with better than 20/20 results. But it is not for everyone. Unsuitable candidates are those with ongoing medical issues such as glaucoma, diabetes, auto-immune problems, or certain eye diseases. Those with previous conditions that resulted in retinal scars are ineligible. Pregnant women are ineligible as their refraction can change during their pregnancy. Children and teenagers are ineligible, as their eyes are still growing.
Will My Insurance Pay For It?
Generally not. Laser eye surgery is considered an elective procedure, meaning that it is not required to maintain the health of the patient. Few exceptions apply, such as for those whose eyes may have sustained an injury.
What Are the Risks Involved?
While most patients have successful surgeries due to thorough pre-op examinations, there are serious risks as well as side effects associated with laser eye surgery. As with any surgery, there is the risk of infection, although most surgeons claim that less than 1% of patients are affected. The same is true for corneal damage. There is also a small risk of environmental factors, such as power outages or equipment malfunction, during the surgery itself that can result in eye damage that could make the patient’s vision worse.
The most common side effects of successful laser eye surgeries are:
- Halo Effect – In dim light, any light source will appear to have a pronounced glare around any bright light source, such as streetlamps or headlights. This often fades as the eyes heal, but can be a permanent side effect and can affect night driving
- Dry Eyes – Even after the eyes have fully healed, many patients report that they experience dry eyes more frequently than before, and use over-the-counter artificial tears to remedy that minor discomfort
A significant percentage of patents experience one or both of these side effects.
What Kind of Experience Can I Expect?
While there are a few different types of laser eye surgery, the experience is fairly standard across them:
- Initial Exam – First, the prospective patient will go in for an initial exam to determine if they are a good candidate for the surgery. Generally this involves a standard vision test, glaucoma test, and a measurement of the thickness of the cornea, which is the transparent, front part of the eye that protects the iris, pupil and lens. This testing costs between $50 and $150, and will often be applied to the cost of the procedure if the patient is deemed a good candidate. At this time the prospective patient will also be informed of the risks involved. Often they are required to watch a video of the procedure so that they can make a fully informed choice to have the surgery or not.
- Second Exam – If deemed a good candidate, a second exam will take place a month later, to ensure that your prescription is stable. Then the surgery date will be set, usually within a week of the second appointment.
- Surgery – the surgery itself only takes about five minutes per eye. The patient is awake throughout the procedure, usually given a prescription pain medication and sometimes a tranquilizer to keep the patient calm. The surgeon is assisted by two to three technicians to monitor the laser’s functioning, assist with the surgery, and comfort the patient. The patient is responsible for keeping their head and body completely still, and following the direction of the surgeon to focus on a light while the surgery is in progress. One or both eyes may be done at a time.
- Recovery & Aftercare – When the procedure is over the eyes are protected by plastic eye covers, severely limiting vision. Patients are instructed to rest and keep their eyes closed for between four hours to overnight, to allow the best immediate healing. Patients are given antiseptic eye drops to prevent infection, steroid eye drops to promote healing, and artificial tears to keep the eyes moist. Patients are advised not to rub their eyes for any reason and to use the plastic eye covers for sleeping for up to five days after the surgery. There is usually some soreness and discomfort for one to three days after the surgery, and patients are advised to use over the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen for any residual discomfort over the next few days.
- Results – The results are immediate and dramatic, according to most patients. However, sometimes a second surgery is required to “fine tune” the prescription, usually very close in time after the initial surgery.
What Does It Cost?
There is a wide range of pricing for laser surgery, depending on the experience and reputation of the surgeon, the type of surgery performed, and the level of aftercare provided. Some retail laser surgery centers advertise as little as $300 per eye, but that does not always include required “extras” like the initial exams, anesthesia, or after-care prescriptions – the combination of which could cost as much as the surgery itself. Plus, any subsequent checkups and surgical touchups will be charged separately. High-end facilities will charge upwards of $2,500 per eye, which will cover all surgery expenses and a lifetime guarantee for free checkups and any surgical touchups should the patient’s eyes begin to regress to their previous prescription. Patients should also factor in any loss of work time, as laser eye surgery is usually performed during regular business hours.
Is It Really Worth It?
The level of enjoyment you might have from having perfect or near-perfect vision, weighed against the risks involved, can only be assessed by you. However, considering the ongoing cost of glasses and contact lenses, most laser eye surgery will pay for itself in five to eight years.