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Find out the risks of laser eye surgery

July 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
An estimated 1.5 million people had laser eye surgery to correct their vision last year, a procedure often not covered by insurance. The expense, along with the fact that you're dealing with precious eyesight, makes this a very important decision.Laser eye surgery costs $1,600 an eye or more, but most people are satisfied by the results. However, there are some important considerations besides the cost that many patients don't realize before the surgery.

"I'm looking forward to playing tennis without glasses, to go skiing, to go scuba diving without glasses," said Laura Nagy, who has been wearing glasses for 10 years. "I think it will totally change my life."

She's about to undergo laser vision correction surgery.

The surgery itself is fairly simple. A laser is used to reshape the cornea, often reducing the need for glasses and contacts.

A Consumer Reports Health survey of 793 adult Americans who've had laser eye surgery since 2001 shows 80 percent reported being "highly satisfied" with the results. But 53 percent of respondents experienced at least one side effect such as halos, light sensitivity, or blurry vision. Twenty-two percent still had problems six months after the surgery.

While every surgery carries risks, Dr. John Santa of Consumer Reports Health says one of the best ways to protect yourself is by doing your homework.

"When looking for a surgeon, you want a board certified ophthalmologist who does at least 250 procedures a year," Dr. Santa advises.

You should also make sure you go into the surgery with realistic expectations.

"Fifty-five percent of the people in our survey still need to wear glasses or contacts at least some of the time after surgery," said Dr. Santa.

And many people will need reading glasses when they hit 40. Still, laser eye surgery can be an effective measure for improving people's vision. It turns out the most common regret from those surveyed was not doing it sooner.

Consumer Reports Health says be aware not everyone is a good candidate for this surgery. A reputable laser center will do a thorough prescreening and typically reject 10 percent or more of prospective patients.

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