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Long-Term Effects of LASIK Remain a Mystery

An Eye on America investigation into LASIK eye surgery shows there are risks both during the operation and beyond.

For the patient, it holds the promise of normal sight without glasses. But as CBS's John Blackstone reports, the fact that little is known about the long-term effects should also be considered.

For millions, LASIK surgery has delivered improved eyesight without glasses or contact lenses. The surgeon cuts a tiny flap on the surface of the eye, and then a few bursts of a laser reshape the cornea.

But even those who perform the surgery, like Dr. Richard Abbott in San Francisco, admit the long-term effects remain unknown.

"Truly, we cannot guarantee to anybody what will happen in 5, 10, or 15 years," says Abbott, who works at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center.

Although thousands of patients now have laser surgery every week, there is little medical research underway. That worries eye surgeon Dr. William Jory.

"The public will point their fingers at us in a few years time and say, 'Doctor, why didn't you warn me?'" says Jory.

Still, Abbott remains enthusiastic: "I think this technology is really terrific."

Jory, however, has stopped using lasers in his practice in London.

"We abandoned [the] laser about 4 years ago and we advise our patients against it," says Jory.

After treating 37 patients with the laser, Jory discovered more than half had seriously diminished night vision. Many patients complain of seeing halos and starbursts at night.

Now the US Food and Drug Administration lists night-vision problems as one of the possible complications of LASIK surgery. The warning is part of a sobering assessment of LASIK surgery on the FDA Web site.

Some patients, the FDA says, "may no longer be able to drive at night." The site warns, "results may not be lasting." The FDA also cautions that improved vision after LASIK may be temporary, particularly for those who need reading glasses.

"Nobody guarantees that you won't need spectacles after this surgery: You probably will," says attorney Aaron Levine. The problem, says Levine, is that patients are not always carefully screened.

"People who never should have this surgery are getting it done," says Levine.

Abbott says patients also need to have realistic expectations regarding their vision after surgery.

"It may be excellent during the day. It may not be so excellent at night," says Abbott. He remains cautious about LASIK, particularly when it comes to his own eyes.

"I haven't had this surgery. Nobody can guarantee me perfect vision," says Abbottt.

In fact, many who perform LASIK surgery have not had it done themselves. Like the doctors, patients should have a full understanding of the risks as well as the benefits.
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