Since the advent of radial keratotomy in the early 1980s over a million people have undergone surgery to correct nearsightedness. Nowadays, the knife has phased out in favor of the less-invasive laser. And the newest laser-assisted technique-a quick, painless procedure that promises instant results-is proving to be the best option yet for those who want to scrap their glasses altogether.
An estimated 80% of people who choose laser assisted in situ keratomileusis (in SI-too ker-a-toe-mil-LOO-sis), or LASIK, end up with perfect 20/20 vision-even if they start out with numbers as bad as 20/200 or worse, says Neil Martin, M.D., a laser eye surgeon at Georgetown University Medical Center. While using similar excimer lasers, LASIK improves upon the older, more common photorefractive keratectomy (PRK). Here's how it works: After anesthetizing the eye with eye drops and removing or folding back a microthin protective skin covering the eye, surgeons make minute alterations in the shape of the cornea. Whereas PRK involves scraping away the protective skin, which may result in the growth of scar tissue, LASIK lifts and then replaces it when surgery is complete-decreasing the possibility of complications.
Plus, LASIK takes only 15 or so minutes for both eyes, Martin says, and involves little to no downtime."People can get off the operating table and see across the room," he says. (A small percentage of patients later require touch-up surgery to get the best vision possible.)
So far, laser surgery is only approved for nearsightedness and astigmatism, but procedures for farsightedness are up for FDA approval. If you're considering laser surgery, quiz potential doctors about their experience and training-the more eyes they've successfully lasered, the better. Side effects are rare, and there's little downside except the price tag: approximately $5,000.