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LASIK and Glaucoma: What You Should Know

By  Michael LoRe
If you are undergoing LASIK to treat other refractive eye issues, it's important to let your eye doctor know if you or your family have a history of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that affect your optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the retina to the brain. Damage is typically caused by a buildup of pressure over time in your eye.

Usually, medicines are able to reduce the intraocular pressure (IOP) in your eye, but if they're not enough, you may need to have surgery — either laser or incisional — to further reduce the pressure.

Can LASIK treat glaucoma?

LASIK (laser-associated in situ keratomileusis) is a popular refractive eye procedure used to treat nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. The procedure reshapes the outer layer of the eye (cornea) to improve vision.

Because LASIK improves the cornea on the outer layer of the eye and glaucoma affects the optic nerve in the eye, LASIK cannot improve the condition.

"Since LASIK is not a surgery inside the eye, it does not affect the optic nerve, and it does not increase nor decrease your baseline risk for developing glaucoma," says Dr. Yuna Rapoport, a board-certified ophthalmologist. "The intraocular pressure does increase significantly for about 30 seconds during the procedure, but this does not increase your risk for developing glaucoma. However, after LASIK, the cornea is thinner, and the intraocular pressure is a number that is assessed in context of your corneal thickness as well."

Can you get LASIK if you have glaucoma?

If you are undergoing LASIK to treat other refractive eye issues, it's important to let your optometrist or ophthalmologist know if you or your family have a history of glaucoma so special precautions can be taken before, during and after surgery.

While it's rare to develop glaucoma as a result of LASIK, the steroid eye drops you are given following to operation to reduce inflammation may increase eye pressure and thus your chances of developing glaucoma.

"[Glaucoma] is usually is associated with high intraocular pressure (IOP)," says Dr. Alan B. Schlussel, an optometrist. "People being treated for glaucoma typically are not good candidates for LASIK because a suction device is used on the eye during the creation of the corneal flap during LASIK surgery, and this briefly causes a significant increase in IOP.

"But a person with LASIK might be a candidate for another type of vision correction surgery, such as PRK, which does not require the use of a suction device. In addition, after LASIK or PRK, the cornea is made thinner which can cause inaccurate pressure measurements."

So in short, LASIK is neither a treatment for glaucoma nor is it the best option should you need refractive correction.