It's been a little over a year since Joseph Schnell, an elevator construction worker from Philadelphia, had LASIK eye surgery to correct his nearsighted vision. Rather than becoming clearer and sharper, though, Schnell's vision soon was plagued by glare at night, halos, starbursts, and double images. The results, he says, have affected his mood—he became depressed and anxious shortly after the surgery.
In response to a Food and Drug Administration public forum on LASIK last week, where Schnell and other people shared their experiences with life-altering complications following the procedure, an FDA advisory panel has recommended ways to make warnings of the risks more clear. The panel suggests that photos depicting what people with visual impairment actually see be made available to those considering the surgery, as well as information on conditions such as large pupils and severe nearsightedness, which would disqualify a person from the procedure, and statistics on side effects. The FDA and a number of organizations, including the National Eye Institute and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, have formed a task force to study quality of life post-LASIK and figure out how to minimize problems.
Experts emphasize that serious complication rates are quite rare. Patient satisfaction hovers around 95 percent, according to a worldwide analysis released in March by another task-force member, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. Among those remaining, many are simply dissatisfied that LASIK didn't measure up to their expectations—their vision isn't quite 20/20, and they still need reading glasses, for example. According to the FDA, only about 1 percent of patients report worse vision and have permanent side effects like eye pain, dry eye, and poor night vision. (Lots of people experience temporary effects like dry eye, glare, and halos.)
Still, "we want people to understand that not everyone is a candidate for LASIK," says Kerry Solomon, cochair of the task force and a professor of ophthalmology at the Medical University of South Carolina. "The quality-of-life investigation will provide us with additional knowledge on how to select the best candidates."
Meantime, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances of being among the dissatisfied patients.