Opening Your Eyes To LASIK

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford pauses to look at his notes as he admits to having an affair during a news conference Wednesday, June 24, 2009
AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain
More and more people are going under the laser to shed their glasses and contact lenses. So the Eye Surgery Education Council has issued new guidelines to help patients determine whether they could be candidates for laser eye surgery.

Dr. Roger Steinert Of Harvard Medical School and chairman of the council, visits The Early Show to explain the guidelines.

The following is a pre-interview with Dr. Steinert:

ES: Why was there a need for guidelines?

Dr. Steinert: The reason for the guidelines is we were hit with the realization that we had a lot of patient enthusiasm for LASIK, but the enthusiasm seemed to be getting ahead of the public's education level. That launched a poll - and we found that there was a large amount of awareness of the procedure but the level of understanding was not nearly what it should be. One-third of patients thought they could be guaranteed a perfect outcome. And on the other side, two-thirds had serious concerns over outcome and side effects from complications that were unfounded. We wanted to create a place where people could get accurate information about what they need to know and what they should be asking their doctor.

ES: How do you feel about the onslaught of laser eye surgery centers offering bargain basement prices on LASIK surgery?

Dr. Steinert: We're not trying to influence price but we are trying to allow patients to have a source for objective and easy understanding. They need to understand who's a candidate - who would benefit, and what the evaluation should be. You should be armed with a series of questions to ask your doctor.

There has been research done that showed that after life itself, the number one health concern people have is losing their vision. It seems very weird that people would then turn around and go to a bargain basement eye center without doing any research and have eye surgery. We want people to know that most surgeons who do LASIK have financing options, which make it affordable for a large majority of people.

ES: What are common side effects?

Dr. Steinert: The most common side effect is just an issue of over or under correction. And since we have the ability to do a second procedure to correct that - it's a negligible side-effect. The other problems are dry eyes and night vision problems with halos and glare. The dry eyes return to normal within three to six months. The night vision problems have improved enormously with the technology in the past few years.

ES: Who is an ideal candidate?

Dr. Steinert: Ideal candidates are people 18 or older with at least two years of stable vision. The second is having a realistic understanding of the typical outcomes. A patient needs to have a thorough eye exam to make sure there are no other factors that would hamper a positive outcome of LASIK surgery.

ES: How big a factor is corneal thickness?

Dr. Steinert: With LASIK there is a limit because we need to have a certain amount of corneal thickness for the cornea to be structurally stable after surgery. The amount of tissue we remove is based on the correction we need to make. Improvements in technology have made corneal thickness less of a problem than it used to be and there are other laser procedures beside LASIK that we can do if a patient does not have enough corneal thickness for LASIK.

Patients need to understand that this is a serious procedure. A lot of people are under the perception that this is a cosmetic procedure. It's not. Patients must listen, be informed, and know the facts.

ES: How do you feel about doctors who base their practices around LASIK - and do only that. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Dr. Steinert: It's actually not as common as you might think - that's the exception rather than the rule. There's nothing inherently wrong with it. Someone who specializes in LASIK is not necessarily a bad thing. The key is to know what you should be looking for from the doctor. You want someone who is board certified and has a good reputation.