One of the most frequently asked questions about LASIK is how long does it last and is it permanent.
However, what many people really want to know is: ”Will I have to wear glasses again?” That answer is more complex. Why? Because the eyes are part of your body and, just like the rest of your body, they change as a result of age and other factors – changes a laser vision correction procedure can’t prevent from happening.
So, let’s get into the facts about eyes and vision.
When you were younger, say between the ages of 7 and 23, you might have noticed changes in your vision. Maybe even a lot of changes. Eyes develop and mature, just like the rest of the body, during this time. And, if there are vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, those problems can change along with the eye itself. Young adults in their late teens and early twenties are often very interested in laser vision correction and some are told they need to wait until their prescription is “stable” – meaning their vision hasn’t changed in the past year. It’s just a part of the maturing process when the body and the eyes undergo a lot of changes over a relatively short period of time.
However, the body doesn’t stop changing with time – and neither do the eyes. For most of us, changes related to age don’t really become a factor until after the age of 40. Most people around 40 begin to notice their reading vision – items in the near-range of vision – isn’t as crisp and clear as it used to be. This is a result of the aging of the lens – the part of your eye that sits behind the iris. These changes are called presbyopia. Over time, the lens stiffens and eventually becomes cloudy – this is called a cataract. Presbyopia and cataracts are part of the aging process.
The next natural question may be: well, if I’m going to need corrective lenses in my 40s, is it worth investing in laser vision correction now. The answer is yes.
Importantly, laser vision correction procedures don’t treat the lens, they reshape the surface of the eye, known as the cornea. That reshaping is permanent and can have a lasting impact on the quality of your vision for years To clarify the situation we looked at the latest research and asked Drs. Eric Donnenfeld and Gregory Parkhurst to help answer one of the most frequently asked questions, “How long does LASIK last?”
How LASIK lasts partially depends on how old you are when you have the laser vision correction procedure.
Q: How long does LASIK last?
- DONNENFELD: It is a very persistent myth, people thinking that LASIK is not permanent and that it may only last a few years. The reality is, LASIK permanently corrects the vision prescription – your nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism – that you come in with to have the procedure. It does this by using a laser to reshape the cornea, eliminating the imperfections of the cornea that cause your nearsightedness, farsightedness, and/or astigmatism. Those imperfections are gone, so the idea that a patient’s eyes occasionally “regress” following LASIK doesn’t really make sense. However, what does happen on occasion is a patient’s myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness) actually progresses. Like all living things, your eyes can change over the course of your lifetime. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect to buy a pair of glasses and have them last your entire lifetime. Your eyes can change, but they will never go back to being as bad as they were prior to LASIK.
- PARKHURST: We think some of the basis for this myth is the reality of presbyopia – LASIK doesn’t prevent it, but it happens to most everyone. Presbyopia typically begins somewhere around the age of 40. The lens of the eye – not the cornea that was reshaped with LASIK, but the lens behind the cornea – loses its ability to focus on objects nearby. Even if you were born with good vision in both eyes, you will likely need reading glasses in your mid-forties – the same is true for people who chose to have their vision corrected with a procedure such as LASIK. Importantly, LASIK doesn’t make presbyopia worse or make it happen sooner. However, because presbyopia is an eventuality for everyone, making the most out of your LASIK vision correction can depend on how old you are when you have your procedure. If you are in your early 20s, then you can look forward to years of great vision without needing prescription lenses.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS:
A recent study in the Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery of patient-reported data concluded quality-of-life and satisfaction rates remained high 5 years after LASIK. The study also reported more than 94% of patients stated they were not wearing distance prescription lenses 5 years after having LASIK.
Q: What is an enhancement and why do some people need to have this?
- PARKHURST: A LASIK enhancement is a follow-up LASIK procedure that sometimes needs to be performed if your original vision correction surgery is unsatisfactory, or if your vision changes significantly over time. With modern LASIK, the enhancement rate is 1-2 percent in the first 12 months and then about 1 percent a year after that as patients’ eyes can change with time. So, for example, 10 years after LASIK, approximately 10 percent of patients may require an enhancement procedure to maintain their excellent vision. Patients whose refraction (the eye refracts light entering it, so as to form an image on the retina) is not stable prior to LASIK have an increased risk of needing enhancements. This is why your LASIK surgeon will want to know if your glasses have changed over the last few years prior to your procedure. The good news is that laser vision correction can very often be repeated after a thorough evaluation to make certain the patient is still a good candidate. Some surgeons charge an enhancement fee, while other surgeons perform these corrections at no cost to the patient. When considering LASIK, this is a good question to ask.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS:
A recent large-scale study of more than 9,000 LASIK procedures (eyes), conducted in Israel over a five-year period noted a retreatment rate of less than 2 percent.
Q: Does LASIK impact a patient’s future vision correction treatment options?
- DONNENFELD: As we’ve discussed before, LASIK treats your existing vision correction needs, but doesn’t prevent the changes that naturally occur with age – such as presbyopia and cataract. However, LASIK doesn’t impact a patient’s ability to choose surgical treatment options for those conditions down the road. These include lens replacement surgery, corneal implants, and monovision LASIK – in which one eye is corrected for distance and one eye for reading.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS:
Cataract surgeons need to have a patient’s complete health history, including any past refractive (laser vision correcting) procedures like LASIK to make the best recommendation for excellent vision after cataract surgery.
Laser vision correction procedures, like LASIK, PRK, and SMILE, permanently reshape the cornea to improve the eye’s ability to focus. LASIK and other laser vision correction procedures treat common vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism to help reduce or eliminate the need for glasses and contact, which can interfere with an active lifestyle. If you have more questions about how long LASIK lasts or if LASIK permanent, schedule a consultation with your local eye professional.