Laser Eye Surgery: The Story Behind Corrective Eye Operations

Almost half the UK’s 60 million population now wears glasses or contact lenses, but few people consider laser surgery an option. Whether it’s a fear of the procedure, worry over the costs or just a lack of knowledge, Laser Eye Surgery is often surrounded by myths and misconceptions.

In fact, for many of us, it is something that can be a hugely positive, life-changing experience. Recent research has found that 62 per cent of British adults who wear glasses claim their lives would significantly improve if they could ditch their glasses or contact lenses for good.

But they’re put off having Laser Eye Surgery because they believe they are too old (42 per cent), that their prescription is too strong (38 per cent), or because they think the procedure is not safe enough (13 per cent).

Professor Dan Reinstein, from The London Vision Clinic, points out: ‘Over 100,000 people have Laser Eye Surgery every year in the UK and it is now one of the safest and most popular procedure available. Even if you think you’re too old or that your prescription’s too strong, you’re probably wrong.’

So What Is It?

Laser Eye Surgery is a surgical procedure where a beam of ultraviolet light is lasered onto the eye, reshaping the cornea and creating 20/20 vision – or better.

How Does It Work?

The surgery involves creating a flap on the outer layer of the damaged cornea (the thin window covering the coloured part of the eye) by peeling a small section away and revealing the damaged area. Then the ultraviolet light can be guided across this section of the eye, reshaping the cornea and correcting any vision defects. The process usually lasts around seven minutes, and patients often notice an improvement straight away.

How Safe Is It?

Like any surgery, there are risks, yet new advances in technology, expertise and aftercare are far less likely than they were 20 years ago when Laser Eye Surgery started becoming widely available. Nowadays, many optician suggest that eye surgery is safer than the long-term use of contact lenses.

What Can Go Wrong?

The chances of there being a problem during Laser Eye Surgery is around one in 1,000. However, the chances of a surgeon not being able to correct a problem are around one in 30,000. According to professionals, the most common problem faced after Laser Eye Surgery is that it doesn’t correct vision up to 20/20 standard straight away, leaving a small gap between the desired vision and the patient’s pre-operative vision. This can be corrected with further surgery.

How Much Does The Procedure Cost?

The cost of Laser Eye Surgery will vary, depending on what treatment you require and where you go for it. Generally, the greater your eye needs, the more expensive the treatment will be. Treatments start at less than £1,000 per eye, but that can go up to £5000+ for those with extreme prescriptions, where there may be a need for extensive follow-up care.

Some Laser eye surgery is available on the NHS, but often you’ll still have to pay a fee. Only in very rare cases would it be considered medically necessary to do the surgery free of charge. It’s important to do your research and find a reputable company that has your vision in its best interest. Most clinics will let you go for a free consultation, where you can ask questions and voice any concerns.

Laser Myth-Busters

Laser eye surgery is only for short-sighted people

Patients who are short or long-sighted, astigmatic or presbyopic (meaning their eyesight is getting worse with age) can be treated. Brand-new technology means those who use reading glasses can also get treatment, although it’s only available at a few UK clinics.

You can be too old for Laser Eye Surgery

Technically, there’s no upper age limit if the eye is healthy. Changes in original eye health over the years should be minimal.

You have to have injections in your eye

Anaesthetic drops numb the eyes for surgery, so no nasty needles!

You can go blind

Essentially, no. Technically there is an exceedingly small risk of blindness with laser eye surgery but it is lower than the risk of wearing monthly contact lenses for one year, so a risk that everyone seems to accept as perfectly reasonable.

If you blink or sneeze, you could mess up the surgery

The eye is held open throughout and any sudden movements mean the machine will automatically turn off.

It doesn’t last that long

Treatment is permanent, but as the eye is a living organ there can be a slight change of 0.5 diopetre (the unit of measurement of the optical power of the lens) as you get older.

The Facts

“It didn’t hurt and took less than 5 minutes” Reveal’s Janelle Butterfield Braved the Surgeon’s Laser ‘I got my first pair of glasses when I was eight. Although they were a novelty, to begin with, after 16 years of fiddling around with contact lenses and glasses I was ready to make the break.

Despite jumping for joy at the idea of having 20/20 vision, once the ball got rolling I was very nervous. However, it was reassuring to know that with 10,000 Laser Eye Surgery operations under his belt and 18 years of training, my surgeon, Professor Dan Reinstein, is one of the best in his field.

At my initial consultation, a team of specialists spent three hours scrutinizing every part of my eye health that was good enough to undergo the surgery. They also talked me through all the risks and advised that, for me, Laser Eye Surgery would probably be safer than wearing contact lenses for 12 hours a day.

I was nervous on the day of the op, but I was in and out of surgery so quickly there was no time to panic. Despite what I’d heard, the procedure was pain-free and took no more than 15 minutes. During the actual lasering process, I could see lots of colours, which was a little like looking at a kaleidoscope, but I was told by my surgeon that it was all going perfectly.

As soon as I sat up, Dr Dan asked me to look around the room. For the first time in 16 years, I could read the clock on the wall! Once I got home, my eye felt slightly gritty and sensitive. I’d been advised to lie down with them closed for three hours and insert antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drops every 15 minutes. Lying down for a rest wasn’t a problem after my 6 am start! By lunchtime, the gritty feeling had gone and I had perfect eyesight. The only physical evidence of my surgery was my lack of makeup-wearing no mascara for seven days was the real challenge!

At my 24-hour follow-up, Professor Reinstein informed me that my eye had already healed and I now have better than 20/20 vision. The aftercare was easy: I spent a few nights sleeping in protective goggles and putting in my eye drops, a small price to pay for perfect vision. Now I can’t wait to go on holiday and splash about in the sea without worrying about my contact lenses!’