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LASIK eye surgery safe in long-term, experts say

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LASIK eye surgery to correct a person’s vision has been in use since the mid-1990s, but lingering questions as to the long-term effects still come to mind for past and potential patients. But LASIK recipients can rest easy: Studies have shown that the surgeries have little negative effect and in fact, are now safer and more beneficial than ever.

“LASIK is an FDA-approved procedure… if there were long-term issues with the procedure, the FDA would pull the procedure off the market, right? And that is absolutely not the case,” Dr. Marc Werner, an ophthalmologist at the Stahl Eye Center in New York City, told FoxNews.com. “We still have lots of people we started on 18 to 19 years ago who are perfect. It’s still a very good procedures with long-term results.”

In a 2008 retrospective study of LASIK procedures, Spanish researchers followed up with 70 patients for 10 years and found that, overall, participants had healthy corneas and that their vision remained accurate.

“The question is: Has the technology improved over the last 18 years? Absolutely. It’s a safer procedure with better results,” Werner said.

LASIK, laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, is a surgical procedure that utilizes a laser to permanently change the shape of the cornea to correct vision. Nearsightedness and farsightedness are both caused by distortions in the cornea.

During the procedure, a flap is created in the cornea so that a computer-controlled excimer laser can vaporize a portion of the stroma, which is located in the middle of the cornea. The flap is then closed again, correcting the curvature of the cornea, and improving vision.

In the mid-1990s, surgeons used a surgical blade to create a flap in the cornea. But now, the majority of ophthalmic surgeons use a femtosecond laser. The laser separates tissues by creating a layer of bubbles, then making an incision to create the flap. If the surgery is disrupted, the air bubbles dissolve and no tissue is removed, unlike with a blade.

In addition to improvements in the procedure, the preoperative testing process has become more thorough, with screening tests monitoring multiple elements of the cornea to ensure LASIK is proper for the patient.  According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), people who have experienced vision changes in the past year, have a disease or disorder that may affect wound healing, or actively participating in contact sports may be at risk for complications from LASIK. The procedure is approved for adults for adults age 18 and over.

“The screening process has gotten better in the sense that it could pick up things it couldn’t pick up…10…five years ago,” Dr. Michael Ehrenhaus, director of New York Cornea Consultants and director of Cornea External Disease & Refractive Surgery at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, told FoxNews.com

Ehrenhaus points out that there are fewer long-term studies now as there were at the advent of the surgery because of the proven safety and effectiveness of the procedure.

With the natural aging process, it’s possible a patient will need a touch-up LASIK procedure to fine tune his or her vision in the future, or may need reading glasses later in the life.

“Aging changes occurs within 100 percent of the population,” Dr. Kerry Solomon, director of the Carolina Eyecare Research Institute in Charleston, SC, told FoxNews.com. “…Occasionally things will change in [eye] shape and size.”

Those eye changes also include cataracts, the clouding of the natural lens of the eye. LASIK does not increase the incidence of cataracts – the surgery affects only the cornea, not the lens of the eye.

“With or without LASIK, we all develop [cataracts]… and their occurrence is unrelated to LASIK,” Werner said.

Long-term safety of LASIK has been good and continues to improve with technological developments.

“Most patients do phenomenally well in the long-term. 15 to 20 years after, patients come up and say, ‘This is the best thing I ever did,’” Ehrenhaus said. “If it wasn’t a good procedure, it wouldn’t still be done.”