Look out for laser surgery
Before opting for laser eye surgery, you need to make sure you know what the procedure will entail and how it will work for you, writes FIONA REDDAN
SINCE ITS introduction almost two decades ago, eye laser treatment has revolutionalised many people’s lives, rendering the wearing of glasses or contact lenses unnecessary.
In line with demand for the treatment, the number of providers offering the service in Ireland has soared.
But what do you need to know about the procedure before you throw away your glasses?
WHO IS SUITABLE FOR THE TREATMENT?
Laser eye surgery is aimed at improving the sight of those suffering from ailments such as short sightedness, long sightedness and astigmatism. However, not all people with these complaints will be suitable for surgery.
In general, Dr Arthur Cummings of the Wellington Eye Clinic in Dublin, says that candidates should be over 18 years of age, with healthy eyes and a relatively stable prescription.
If you have problems such as dry eyes or cataracts, or have a systemic condition such as pregnancy or uncontrolled diabetes, then you may not be suitable.
Most clinics offer a free consultation to determine if you are a suitable candidate. According to Cummings, about 10 per cent of people presenting to eye clinics are not suitable.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LASIK AND LASEK?
There are two types of laser treatments. LASIK, which uses a cool beam of light from the excimer laser to gently reshape the front surface, or cornea, of the eye, and LASEK, which involves removing the top layer of the cornea as a flap-like sheet before re-sculpting the cornea with a laser.
In general, most of the surgeries carried out tend to be LASIK, as it is more convenient with a faster recovery time.
However, for patients with thin corneas, or who are involved in certain contact sports, LASEK can be more appropriate.
The procedure takes about 10-15 minutes per eye, and patients are usually required to wait an additional 30 minutes or so in the clinic afterwards. In general, both eyes are treated on the same day, although Cummings notes that 2 per cent of people prefer to have it done separately.
Another general rule is that, for patients under 40, usually only one eye is treated. Known as “monovision”, this is because people’s eyesight tends to deteriorate once they enter their late 40s. If both eyes were treated therefore, it would mean additional laser treatment would need to be carried out.
HOW LONG IS THE RECOVERY PERIOD?
In general, recovery from LASIK treatment usually occurs within 24 hours, and you should be able to see without glasses or contact lenses within a day. LASEK, however, is slower and more uncomfortable, and full recovery is not expected before about five days. It is not recommended that you drive home after surgery.
A check-up is usually carried out the day after the procedure, and then again after six weeks.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE RIGHT CLINIC?
At present, laser eye clinics are not regulated in Ireland, so consumers should do their own due diligence before selecting one.
Word of mouth recommendations from friends or family are often the best way of finding a suitable clinic.
Cummings recommends that you select a clinic where you’re assessed by a consultant, and treated and followed up by the same doctor.
He also suggests that you look for a clinic where the surgeon is based in Ireland, in case there are any issues that need to be addressed afterwards.
Laser surgery is “always successful” in reducing dependency on glasses, says Cummings, but adds that about 1.7 per cent of patients will require follow-up treatment.
According to Cummings, laser eye surgery is the “most successful treatment in medicine”, pointing out that as long as you are a good candidate, it is eight times safer than wearing contact lenses.
Nevertheless, like any type of surgery, there are risks associated with laser eye treatment, and potential problems include dry eyes, or more serious complications such as poor vision in low light and difficulty with night driving, flap problems and infections.
Something else to bear in mind is that LASIK is a relatively new surgery. As such, the long-term safety and effectiveness of the treatment is not yet known.
Prices for surgery will depend on where you are in the country, and which clinic you attend.
At Optical Express, which has clinics in Dublin, Newbridge and Cork, laser eye surgery starts from just €595 per eye, but the advanced wavefront version costs from €1,150.
At the Wellington clinic in Sandyford, Dublin, wavefront optimised LASIK/LASEK costs €2,050-€2,200 per eye, and this covers you for up to one year for all your post-operative visits and any immediate enhancement surgery that may be needed after surgery.
Ultralase, which has four clinics around Ireland, charges from €1,295 per eye to €2,495 per eye, depending on the treatment chosen, while costs at LaserVision range from €995 per eye to €2,550 for both.
As with all medical treatments, cost should not be your primary motivator. While some clinics may advertise very low prices, these may be suitable for only a small proportion of candidates, and the real cost may be considerably higher.
You should also check whether the fee includes the cost of follow-ups.
Eye laser treatments are eligible for tax relief, so you can claim back at the standard rate of tax, 20 per cent, by submitting a Med 1 form at the end of the relevant tax year. So, a €1,000 treatment will in effect cost you only €800.
You may also be able to get some money back if you have private health insurance. For example, Aviva has an arrangement with Optical Express, which means that members can get a 22.5 per cent discount on treatments with the provider. So, a Wavefront treatment will cost an Aviva member only €891.25, while getting tax relief on this will bring the total cost down to less than €713.
At Quinn Healthcare, members can get a 15 per cent discount at a number of participating centres which include LaserVision in Dublin; Optical Express in Cork, Dublin and Kildare; and Western Laser Clinic in Galway, while Optilase offers Quinn members a €1,000 discount on Advanced CustomVue Wavefront LASIK/LASEK eye laser treatment.
The HSF also offers a rebate on eye laser treatment, which varies depending on the plan you have.
However, the VHI doesn’t provide cover for laser eye surgery for correction of long/short sightedness.
in conjunction with a number of providers of refractive laser surgery, VHI members can avail of a 15 per cent discount on laser eye surgery procedure fees (excluding consultation fees).