Is LASIK safe? What you need to know By Andrew E Holzman, MD FACS on March 31, 2019

People who struggle with vision issues often wonder if a laser vision correction procedure such as LASIK  might be a better option for them than glasses or contact lenses. For those who take the next step to look into LASIK eye surgery, frequently the first question that comes to mind is: Is LASIK safe? In reality, when people considering LASIK ask if it’s safe, they’re really asking two questions:

  1. Is LASIK a safe surgical procedure? And,
  2. Is LASIK safe for my eyes?

The answer to the first question is a resounding —Yes! Answering the second question requires an investment of time on the part of the patient. This is because the only way to answer the second question accurately is for the patient to have a thorough evaluation as part of a LASIK consultation with an eye care professional.  This is an incredibly important step in the process for deciding if LASIK is right for you and your vision, which directly determines the safety of the procedure when it comes to your own eyes.

A few basic facts that many patients find very comforting include:

  • LASIK has been around for nearly 20 years.
  • The procedure was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1999
  • LASIK’s longevity and sustained popularity is due largely to its impressive record for both safety and effectiveness.

But those who are researching the procedure may want more details about LASIK eye surgery safety.  Below is an overview of the technological, clinical and scientific support of LASIK safety.

Is LASIK Surgery safe?

More than 19 million LASIK procedures have been performed in the U.S. with very high patient satisfaction in visual outcomes. The high rate of patient satisfaction, more than 96 percent according to the most recent clinical data, is due in part to the extremely low risk of complications from the surgery.  Based upon the research into and clinical experience with LASIK, the rate of complications from LASIK eye surgery is estimated to be less than 1 percent, which makes it one of the safest elective surgical procedures available today.

Another fact patients find a lot of comfort in is that LASIK is one of the most studied elective procedures performed today:

  • From 1993-2005, more than 9,000 patients participated in FDA clinical trials testing LASIK safety and outcomes.
  • Since then, a tremendous amount of clinical research into LASIK has been conducted. To date more than 7,000 peer-reviewed published studies confirm the procedure is both safe and effective as well as look into other important aspects of LASIK.
  • This vast body of scientific evidence includes studies that help refine what makes a patient a good or bad candidate for the procedure, and techniques and technologies that can reduce the potential for side effects such as dry eye, glare and halos.

 How safe is LASIK?

From a statistical perspective, an enormous amount of clinical data clearly answers the question – How safe is LASIK?  A few of the most compelling data points include:

  • Recent analysis of studies comparing rates of infection between contact lens use and LASIK found that one year of using extended wear of soft contact lenses led to 3 times as many cases of microbial keratitis than LASIK.
  • In a study evaluating the results of 58,653 procedures, less than 1 percent, .61%, of patients lost 2 lines (of the eye chart) of best corrected visual acuity.
  • As a point for reference, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration threshold for safety is less than 5 percent, confirming LASIK far surpasses the standard for safety.
  • In fact, LASIK has never been the primary, exclusive cause of blindness.

LASIK is a safe and effective option for vision correction. Having concerns about the safety of the surgery and your eyesight is normal. You owe it to yourself and your vision to research the procedure thoroughly so you fully understand the risks and benefits.  For those who are weighing their vision correction options, they may be interested in the technologies that go into making LASIK a safe procedure.

 What makes LASIK safe?

LASIK uses advanced computer-driven laser technology to reshape the cornea with microscopic precision. The high degree of precision and accuracy afforded by this combination of technologies helps ensure patient safety.

  • Your personal anatomy and vision are measured in high definition detail during the pre-operative evaluation of your eyes. That data is then programmed by Dr Holzman into the LASIK platform to customize the treatment plan to your unique requirements.
  • Technology first developed by NASA to help automate the docking of satellites to the Space Shuttle is used by the LASIK platform to track your eye movements – thousands of times per second – allowing the device to adjust as needed to ensure proper application of the treatment.
  • Many patients are concerned about moving during the procedure. The tracking system built into the laser that follows your eye will also temporarily turn off the laser if you move significantly (such as a cough or sneeze). Once you are safely repositioned under the laser, the procedure can resume.
  • The LASIK procedure is performed using the excimer laser – which emits a cool beam of ultraviolet light – to remove microscopic pieces of corneal tissue (the cornea is the outer structure of the eye) and reshape the surface, allowing the eye to focus clearly again.
  • Today, many surgeons use a precision instrument called a femtosecond laser to create the corneal flap at the beginning of LASIK surgery. It operates at ultra-fast speeds and uses an extremely short pulse duration (measured in femtoseconds, hence the name) to create the flap without disrupting the surrounding corneal tissue.  Dr Holzman uses these femtosecond lasers for all of his LASIK procedures and has been doing so since their approval and for over 15 years.

LASIK Safety: What You Can Do

It is natural to want to do the most you can to ensure your safety.  Understanding LASIK is a choice that deserves your time and attention to make an informed decision is a good first step.  A few other recommendations include:

  • Do your own research about LASIK and laser vision correction procedures. Asking friends and family who have had LASIK is a good start and can lead to important referrals and recommendations for you.  In addition to this blog, there are several reliable sources of information about LASIK on the internet.
  • Take the time to meet with several eye surgeons to get a variety of opinions and confirm LASIK is the right procedure for you. Everyone has a distinct style and different qualifications.  You want to feel comfortable and confident in the expertise of the surgeon you chose.  Your surgeon should be your highly-qualified, trusted partner in achieving the vision you want. We believe that you will choose Dr Holzman once you have done your research. 
  • Bring your research with you to your consultation appointment(s) to have us clarify and confirm the information you have gathered. Having consistent information provided and confirmed by several sources, including your surgeon, will help you make a decision about whether or not LASIK is right for you.
  • As with all surgeries, LASIK has a recovery period and healing process. During this time, some patients may experience side effects, such as dry eye, glare or halos. These typically resolve over time or with treatment. Understanding the recovery and healing process is important – you want to know what to expect and what you need to do to take of yourself.
  • Finally, if you’re told you’re not a candidate for LASIK, take the recommendation seriously. If you are working with us or any highly-qualified surgeon, he or she is making your health and vision the top priority. Listen to your surgeon and don’t try to find a less-than-reputable practitioner to have it done. Approximately 20 percent of people who want LASIK are not suitable candidates for a variety of health and medical reasons including thin or damaged corneas or sometimes chronic conditions such as diabetes or autoimmune diseases.

When making the decision about whether or not to have a laser vision correction procedure such as LASIK, it is normal to want to be assured that LASIK is safe.  By every scientific and clinical standard, LASIK is among the safest elective procedures available today.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any risks and it isn’t necessarily right for any one person.  In addition to independently researching the procedure using credible sources for information, having a thorough evaluation and a thoughtful conversation with an eye surgeon you trust is the best way to find out if LASIK is right for you.

Dr. Andrew Holzman

Andrew E. Holzman, MD, FACS

Andrew E. Holzman, MD, FACS, is one of the most well-respected ophthalmologists in the greater Washington D.C. area. He is regularly sought out by professional athletes, media personalities, and other doctors for laser eye surgery. Dr. Holzman is a member of several prestigious organizations, including:

  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • The American College of Surgeons
  • The American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery
  • The American Medical Association
  • The International Society of Refractive Surgery

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