Can you go blind from laser eye surgery?
10 December 2019
What are the risks?
This is one of the questions we get asked the most, both in clinic and online, and it’s also one of the most-Googled questions relating to laser eye surgery: Can you go blind from laser eye surgery? It’s so commonly-asked with good reason – your eyesight is precious and you should do everything possible to preserve good eye health.
There is some debate online surrounding the topic of blindness from laser eye surgery – some sources say it’s never happened, while others refute this claim entirely. Of the sources that agree you can go blind from laser eye surgery, it’s generally estimated that the risk of this happening to you is around 1 in 5 million. To put that into perspective, your chance of dying by falling out of bed is 1 in 2 million, and your chance of matching 5 numbers and the bonus ball in the lottery is around 1 in 7 million.
The risk of going blind from laser eye surgery falls somewhere between those two scenarios – but you actually have a 34 times higher risk of going blind from contact lens infections than going blind from laser eye surgery. Putting in contact lenses is something that millions of people do in the UK every day – so if fear of blindness is the thing putting you off laser eye surgery, you might also want to rethink your contact lens habits.
Safest elective surgical procedure
Laser eye surgery is frequently hailed as the safest elective surgical procedure in the world. This is, in part, due to technology advancing all the time and techniques being continually refined. This not only makes the treatment more effective, but also makes it safer. There are multiple types of laser eye surgery available and we offer two at Optimax – LASIK and LASEK. Essentially, they differ in the way that the top layer of the cornea is removed. We apply the laser to the middle layer of your cornea, which can only be accessed by taking away the top layer.
With LASEK, we soften the top corneal layer with a dilute alcohol solution, and gently move it to the side. The middle part of your cornea is then treated and the top layer heals and grows back on its own over the coming weeks. With LASIK procedures, however, we use two lasers. The first cuts a small flap in your cornea which the surgeon can lift up, exposing the middle layer of your cornea. The second laser is applied to your eye, and the surgeon then carefully replaces the flap. This generally leads to a quicker healing time as the cornea simply joins back together without the need for cells to regrow.
The chances of developing complications from laser eye surgery are very low, but it tends to be post-surgery issues that lead to loss of vision, rather than the procedure itself. Most complications are typically temporary, clearing up within a few months, and certainly aren’t sight-threatening. More common short-term issues include dry eyes and glare from bright lights at night, with blindness being incredibly rare.
Following laser eye surgery, you are given a selection of eye drops to help your eyes heal, provide comfort, and keep you safe from infection. If your surgeon’s guidelines for using these drops are not kept to, you put yourself at risk of developing sight-threatening eye infections. It’s also important that you follow their instructions for timescales when it comes to returning to activities like swimming and intense sports. Especially in the first few days after surgery, resting your eyes is really important and your actions during that period can hugely affect your entire healing process. Having said that, infections as a result of laser eye surgery are very rare, affecting around 0.02% of patients. If left untreated, infections can lead to blindness. Therefore, it’s crucial that you use the antibiotics given to you and contact your clinic if you have any concerns.
Some sources even say that “most cases of LASIK complications are avoidable by following aftercare procedures set forth by your surgeon”. There is also a risk of decreased night vision with 0.5-1% of patients suffering from halos around bright lights in the dark. However, this is usually a temporary condition, clearing up within 6 months.
Total blindness – where you have no light perception – caused by laser eye surgery is extremely rare. The American Refractive Surgery Council states that no one has ever gone completely blind from laser eye surgery, with “inadequate aftercare” being the direct cause of any laser eye surgery-induced blindness. In short, no one has got off the operating table without being able to see. Any potential visual issues develop in the coming weeks in the rare event that the patient deviates from the aftercare guidelines. Further to this, technological advancements in the laser eye surgery industry ensure consistently-improving success rates.
Ultimately, if the fear of going blind is what’s been keeping you from taking the plunge and getting laser eye surgery, you have nothing to fear. You’re almost as likely to be hit by lightning (chance of 1 in 6 million) as you are to go blind from treatment. We’ve previously written about the common fears and myths that people have surrounding laser eye surgery, so have a read of our myth-busting article to dispel some of those rumours. If you’d like to find out what our past patients say, head over to our Trustpilot to have a read about their Optimax journeys.
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