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Keeping an Eye on Side Effects of Laser Eye Surgery

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"With LASIK, the surface of the cornea is essentially untouched because you make a little flap in the very upper layer of the cornea, then you do the lasering and reshaping of the cornea underneath the flap," he says. "The flap folds back and conforms to that new shape, so you don't have that scratch that has to heal on the surface of the cornea." Gordon, who is in private practice at the Vision Surgery and Laser Center in San Diego, was one of the surgeons involved in the study.

The results of the study show that PRK patients experience an increase in halo and double vision, but not glare, after surgery. Patients who underwent LASIK experienced an increase in double vision, but not glare or halo. LASIK-treated patients also tended to report fewer symptoms after the procedure than those treated with PRK.

"LASIK is the most popular refractive [or vision correction] procedure worldwide right now," Marc Michelson, MD, tells WebMD. "Most refractive surgeons are doing LASIK; a lot of people are no longer doing PRK because of the fast LASIK recovery." Michelson, an assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and the director of the Michelson Laser Vision, also was involved in the study.

"We occasionally do PRK in circumstances where we can't do LASIK. There is nothing wrong with PRK; it is a good procedure -- in fact, the cornea is not cut with PRK, [but] patients have to go through a bit more aggravation to get good results," Michelson says.

Michelson says that because the LASIK procedure has become very popular lately, patients need to be careful when choosing a surgeon. "It is critical that patients seek out someone with experience and a long history of good outcomes," he says. "A lot of doctors are learning the procedure -- that's not to say that someone learning the procedure doesn't have the capability of doing good -- but it's 'Buyer Beware!'" An experienced surgeon can oftentimes fix the side effects as well, he says.

"It is somewhat reassuring, in that the study shows that we are going in the right direction by doing LASIK rather than PRK," says Steinert, who's also an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and a member of Ophthalmic Consults of Boston. He adds it's a good reminder that some patients do experience these side effects. "Although the vast majority of patients consider these side effects to be tolerable, they may experience them, and it is not something that can be predicted or avoided regardless of the skill of the surgeon."

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