LASIK procedures increase during COVID-19
Eyeglass wearers everywhere know it well.
The dreaded fog that comes from wearing glasses with a mask.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, foggy glasses and dry eyes have become a regular side effect of mask wearing for those with corrective lenses and glasses.
“With mask wearing, a lot of people are experiencing more irritation with their eyes and dryness from airflow going up in the mask (and) maybe a little bit more irritation with their contact lenses than they had had prior,” Dr. Kirsten Wagner, a cornea, cataract and refractive surgeon at Sansum Clinic, told the News-Press.
But now, with elective surgeries back in action, Dr. Wagner said vision corrective procedures, like LASIK, are on the rise as people are opting to trade foggy glasses for 20/20 vision.
“In the whole country, they’ve reported a 16% increase in LASIK procedures,” Dr. Wagner said. “And I think that is about what we’re experiencing in the local area as well.”
She later added, “In other recessions, we’ve seen a decrease in vision correcting or elective procedures, but not with 2020.”
LASIK, a corrective procedure that slightly reshapes a person’s cornea and improves vision, was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998. Since that time, advances to LASIK technology have diminished the need for blades and developed a painless procedure completed with lasers.
Patients who undergo LASIK surgery are awake for the procedure, and their eyes are numbed with drops. Then laser technology is used to slice open the corneal flap, insert the patient’s vision prescription and seal the flap. The procedure only takes about 15 minutes, and the results can be seen within the first day of surgery.
“The vision can continue to improve for up to six months, but usually that first week is when we get the biggest jump in vision,” Dr. Wagner said. “And most people have excellent vision the next day.”
The advanced laser technology also has the ability to track a patient’s pupil movement, ensuring that the procedure is completed even if the patient moves their eye, Dr. Wagner said.
“We tell the patient to look in the far off distance (during the procedure),” Dr. Wagner said. “There’s going to be like an orange blinking light, and they try and find that light. But even if they can’t find that light, or their eye accidentally moves a little bit, the laser stops. It’s smart enough to stop if the pupil is not in the center. So then we just stop, have them refocus, and then it picks up where the treatment left off.”
Amie Cisneros, an ophthalmic assistant at Sansum and former LASIK patient, saw results just hours after her surgery, which was completed in February. After years of wearing glasses and contacts, Ms. Cisneros was tired of her glasses fogging up while wearing a mask and completing other activities, like working out in the gym.
After her procedure was completed, she went home and napped for a while after the surgery, and when she woke up in the evening, the results had her asking “is this real life.”
“I fell asleep for about two hours (after the surgery), and then I woke up and I turned my TV on,” Ms. Cisneros told the News-Press. “And I was like, oh my gosh, I can see people and oh my gosh, I can read the letters.”
For many patients, the LASIK procedure helps to significantly improve eyesight and remains intact for the long haul. After completing LASIK surgery, about 90% of patients achieve 20/20 vision, and 99% end up with better than 20/40 vision, according to the American Refractive Surgery Council.
Not only is vision improved, but it is built to last.
Only around 2% to 5% of patients have to get “touch up” procedures to improve the prescription, Dr. Wagner said.
She added that even if a touch up is needed, it can be 20 years down the road.
Currently, LASIK procedures are approved for individuals 21 and older. To qualify, individuals must have a stable lens prescription for two years, must not be pregnant or breastfeeding and cannot have an autoimmune disorder that could prohibit healing from the surgery.
Prior to her surgery, Ms. Cisneros did not have a long history of medical procedures, so she felt slightly nervous about completing LASIK. But after seeing the results of the procedure, she said she would encourage anyone who is thinking about it to “go for it.”
“The benefit from it is so much greater than (the nerves) you’re feeling in that moment,” Ms. Cisneros said. “So for me, it was just kind of like, it’s gonna be great afterward. And it was.”