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Health

Laser surgery: lyin’ eyes

Like many four-eyed people, I really don’t like wearing glasses. Sadly I’m stuck with them. I used to wear contact lenses, but I had to stop a few years back when my prescription changed: I’m slightly astigmatic, but I’m on the borderline – and that means I’m too astigmatic for normal contact lenses and not astigmatic enough for toric lenses, which are designed for people whose eyes are shaped like rugby balls.

On paper, contact lenses are just fine; in my eyeballs, they’re not. If lenses enable me to read, I can’t wear them for driving a car at night; if they enable me to drive at night, I can’t use them for reading. Again and again I’ve tried lenses which all the tests say are perfect in my eyes, but which don’t give me perfect vision.

I still hate wearing specs, though, and a few years ago laser surgery started coming down in price to the point where it wasn’t the preserve of millionaires. I looked into it, looked into the side effects and looked into what’s considered a success – and I discovered that what a laser clinic would consider 100% successful wasn’t necessarily 100% successful from my point of view. As with contact lenses, it’s entirely possible to have a successful treatment that doesn’t give you perfect vision. Side-effects can be quite serious, and even if the correction is acceptable it’s a short-term fix, not a permanent one.

That put me off a bit, but the main thing that put me off is the risk of it all going wrong. My late grandfather, a keen reader and writer, had laser surgery many years ago (for medical reasons) and it went wrong, essentially blinding him. Being unable to read, to write… that’s pretty much the worst thing imaginable for me.

That doesn’t mean laser eye surgery is dangerous. Lots of people get it and are delighted with the results. But the worst-case scenario is too scary for me, and my experience with contact lenses suggests that it wouldn’t work for me anyway.

Which brings me to Which? magazine, whose researchers have been in a few high street laser clinics.

clinics played down the level and possible duration of risks and complications, which can include permanently poor night vision or some loss of sight in extreme cases. The spokeswoman said that almost half of Which?’s researchers were not told that even if they had laser eye surgery, they would probably need glasses when they were older.

Optical Express say the article is “misleading and poorly researched”, but Which?’s comment seems sensible enough to me:

people need to be aware of the potentially serious and long-term risks, so that they have realistic expectations and commit to the procedure with their eyes open.

I’m quite sure the pun is intentional.