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An Outspoken Few Are Disillusioned With LASIK Surgery

WebMD Health News

May 25, 2000 (Atlanta) -- People are trashing contact lenses and glasses forever, thanks to the "20-minute miracle" called laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) surgery. But not everybody who opts for LASIK is happy. While 99% of patients are satisfied, some of the others are grumbling openly on a burgeoning number of web sites devoted to telling their stories.

Here are just a few posted on one such site, called Surgical Eyes:

Roger: "Today, I can barely drive at night ... everything is smeared to the left in my left eye, and to the right in my right eye. Worse, my eyes are INCREDIBLY DRY. I can't sleep through the night ... When I read, my eyes don't seem to work together."

Howard: "My main trouble ... is from an annoying ghost image in my right eye ... very annoying, especially in bright lit places like food store or malls (Walgreen's is a nightmare of ghost images)."

The procedure is supposedly quick and painless: The doctor uses precise instruments to make a flap in the cornea, then the laser to remove some of the tissue underneath to reshape the cornea's curvature -- the key to good vision.

But is LASIK riskier than some surgeons might admit?

In Atlanta, George O. Waring III heads a refractive surgery center at Emory Vision Correction Center that does LASIK on 600 eyes per month. He tells WebMD that he's familiar with the Surgical Eyes web site, and is frankly glad that it's adding some realism to the LASIK picture.

"I honestly don't think it serves too bad a purpose, because, if anything, it increases the reality of people's expectations," says Waring, who is also a professor of ophthalmology at Emory University School of Medicine.

All the hype over LASIK has created a quick-fix mind-set, Waring tells WebMD. "People forget that LASIK is real eye surgery, and like surgery of any sort, something can go wrong. It's not something you drop in after work to have done, before you play tennis. It's a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking. You can always take a car back if it's a lemon, but this is different."

An estimated 1 million people are expected to have LASIK surgery this year alone, he says. Less than 1% will have complications, "but for that 1%, it's a very important occurrence."

LASIK has been around less than 10 years, but in that time, both the technology and doctors' skills have improved, Waring says. Today, both the microkeratome, the instrument that makes the flap, and the laser, which reshapes the cornea, are getting closer to foolproof, he tells WebMD. "That's why the complications are going down -- but not down to zero yet."

Still, people are taking the surgery too casually, Waring says. He encourages those considering LASIK to ask the surgeon questions about the procedure's outcomes and complications, and to shop around. "You need to be critical of discounts, claims of perfect vision," he says.

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