Yesterday was one of those days (that I have about once a year) where I spent an entire afternoon researching laser eye surgery online. I usually start off excitedly thinking "I'm going to do it! I'm going to call up and make an appointment right now!" and then after a few hours of reading about what it actually involves, and then all the potential side effects, I get burned out and decide to leave it for the time being. After all, we only get one set of eyes in our lifetime.
But, this time, I think I really am going to do it. I've booked a consultation at least (for tomorrow no less).
Just to give you a background, I am very short-sighted. I think it's from being a bookworm as a kid (I used to read titles such as "50,000 Facts about the World, with 10,000 Extra Facts about Space", cover to cover, in a day). My prescription is -5.00 in one eye, and -4.75 in the other. I've been wearing contact lenses for 14 years. When I'm not wearing my lenses, I have to hold things up about 6 inches away from my face to see them in focus.
Wearing contact lenses has never been a big deal for me. I've always suffered from dry eyes, but I've tried out most lenses on the market in order to find the most comfortable ones for me (currently, Acuvue Oasys). I never wear glasses out in public. At my prescription, it doesn't matter how expensive the lenses are, they're still thick and heavy at the edges. And I have lop-sided ears, so my glasses end up all wonky on my face.
Why I'm considering laser eye surgery...
Waking up and not being able to see anything makes me feel so lethargic. It's easier to stay in bed and keep my eyes closed than face the blurry day.
Travelling and having to constantly make sure I've got spare contact lenses, a lens case and enough lens solution gets boring after a while. Not to mention the fact that I have to wear my dreaded glasses out in public on the flight. As if I don't feel awful enough with the dehydrated (but shiny at the same time) skin, and badgers' breath.
My overuse of contact lenses has resulted in lots of little red veins on the whites of my eyes, where I am depriving my eyes of oxygen. I hear that these "veins" are actually new blood vessels that have been created to try to take in more oxygen. I've had these veins for several years now. I don't know if they're reversible. I really hope so.
I just want the freedom of being able to see clearly, all the time. It's fine when I'm in familiar surroundings because I know exactly where everything is, so I can feel my way around when I don't have my lenses in. But when I'm somewhere new, I bump into and trip up over everything. The other day, I couldn't find my glasses after moving apartments, but I couldn't see anything to find them. Argh!
Oh, I almost forgot to add about the annoyance of wearing contact lenses on holiday (aside from the travelling). I always avoid going into the pool or sea, fearing that I'll get an infection in my eyes from bacteria getting under my lenses, or my lenses will fall out, or that the chlorinated/salt water will just dry my lenses to a crisp. Then during the day, when I need to shower and freshen up, I have to remove my lenses before removing make-up or washing my face, and it just makes me feel like a slave to my lenses. And if I dare to nap even for a few minutes, the lenses dry out and sucker themselves to my eyeballs... *sigh*
Why I've been put off having laser eye surgery in the past...
I'd heard that the surgery makes dry eyes even more dry where it cuts off the corneal nerves that tell the eye to blink.
I've never liked the sound of zapping away bits of my cornea, leaving it permanently thinner. As laser eye surgery hasn't been around that long really, no-one really knows what the effects are after say, 30 years.
Vision can still deteriorate years after the surgery (or maybe not achieve 20:20 vision first time round), meaning that I'd either have to go back to using contacts/glasses anyway, or get more laser eye surgery and once again reshape the already thinned out cornea.
I've heard that the flap on the surface of the eye that is cut in the LASIK procedure never really fully heals ever. So if the wind blows a little too strongly, or if someone whacks you in the eye with their elbow, the flap can swing open again (gross).
Apparently it's common that night vision is impaired long after the surgery, where glare and halos around light (e.g. car headlights) can become quite uncomfortable.
I've needed to wait until my sight prescription becomes stable (it's been the same for a few years now, finally).
There's more chance of not achieving 20:20 vision the higher the original sight prescription.
Watching videos or hearing stories about laser surgery makes me gag.
It's hard knowing where to go to get the treatment done. The popular, mass-market laser surgery centres sound a bit cowboy-ish based on the reviews I've read. Who can I trust with my eyes instead?
This seems the most commonplace and cheapest procedure, having been around the longest (I think it's up to £3,000 for both eyes depending where you go). A thin flap is cut into the eye's surface using either a blade or a laser, and then lifted up. A laser then reshapes the cornea (basically by chipping off bits of it), then the flap is replaced and remains in position by natural adhesion until it heals. Recovery time is reputedly fast, and some patients manage to go back to work the next day. The actual surgircal procedure takes just minutes.
Rather than the surgeon cutting a thicker flap into the eye's surface (as in LASIK), the surface cells of just the ultra-thin, "epithelium" layer are scraped off. The laser is then applied to reshape the cornea, before a no-prescription contact lens is placed over the eye to act as a bandage until the epithelium grows back (about 2-4 days supposedly). The recovery time is longer and more uncomfortable than with LASIK, with vision taking weeks or months to become clear, while the epithelium heals fully. But at least there's no flap cut into the eye, and the corneal nerves are also left intact.
LASEK is similar to the PRK procedure above, in that the thicker LASIK-style flap is not cut into the eye. But unlike PRK, instead of the epithelium layer being scraped off and removed completely, in LASEK the epithelium layer is simply loosened using a weak alcohol solution, which the surgeon can then peel back, before lasering. The epithelium is then moved back into place to act as a natural bandage (although a "contact lens" would still need to be worn for a few days until the new epithelium grows back). Again, the recovery time is longer and more painful than with LASIK. The advantage of PRK and LASEK over LASIK is that there is never a thicker flap cut, which means less flap-related complications (e.g. the flap lifting up, or wrinkling) and more cornea is preserved.
From what I've seen, Epi-LASEK is similar to LASEK, except that the thin epithelium flap is lifted using a special blade/tool.
ICL (implantable contact lenses)
Also known as "intraocular contact lenses", ICL is a much newer procedure. Plastic "contact lenses" are implanted in the eye in place or on top of the natural lens. The procedure is supposedly quick, less risky and reversible. I don't know what makes me more uncomfortable - having plastic bits implanted into my eyes, or having a laser resurface my corneas. Anyway, ICLs are expensive - around £6,000 per eye, so that's that ruled out.
My next steps...
Tomorrow I have my consultation at a place which specialises in the LASEK / Epi-LASEK procedures. From my laywoman's point of view, it sounds like LASEK would alleviate some of the concerns I've always had with laser eye surgery. It sounds like it would put me out of action for maybe a week (eyes need to be closed as much as possible, no work and no looking at screens), but I prefer the idea of not having a thick flap cut into my eye, lessening the chance of even drier eyes, and leaving a thicker cornea (in case I ever need follow-up treatments).
Obviously, all this is from just what I've read on the Internet... so I might be completely wrong. Or, maybe I'll speak to the doctor, hear some hard facts and decide once again not to have laser eye surgery because my eyes are too precious to mess around with (although apparently laser surgery is safer than wearing contact lenses every day).
I will come back and report after the consultation. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on laser eye surgery? Have you ever considered it or even had it done?
Disclaimer: I am in no way a "medical" person, so no quoting of anything I've written in this post please! Any information I've typed up is just a summary of about a hundred pages I've read and a few videos I've watched from the magical place they call The Internet.