My LASIK Experience
About two months ago, I gained laser vision. I did a lot of research before taking the leap and learned even more after undergoing the procedure. If you’re thinking of getting LASIK or PRK, here’s what you need to know.
My LASIK procedure was done by LASIK Vision Institute, which has locations around the US. There are many other providers. The main things to compare are price, the model of machine they use, and staff competence. I list competence last because the entire procedure is done by a machine — as long as their surgeon correctly applies the layer of alcohol to your eye, computers take care of all the actually hard stuff.
Off the bat, it’s important to note that not everyone is eligible for LASIK. Eligibility depends on your prescription and the thickness of your cornea. Thankfully, most LASIK locations offer free exams.
On the cost front, my procedure came out to $1,500. That was $1,400 for the surgery (with a 30% discount) + $100 for silicon dry-eye-preventing duct blockers. However, there were several additional hidden costs: I had to spend an additional $90 on prescription medication required for the recovery period. I also had to spend $70 on Ubers for two round trips to the doctor’s that I was not allowed to drive for. And finally, I lost a fair amount of time: the first three days after surgery, I was not supposed to do anything with my eyes (such as use a computer, read or even watch TV); even after those three days, I had about two weeks of vision that was blurry enough it impacted my productivity.
Some locations charge a flat fee for everyone (around $4,000). Others, such as the LASIK Vision Institute, charge lower fees for smaller prescriptions — if your prescription is 5 or less, you’ll likely get the best deal at a place like LVI that offers prescription-based discounts.
There are also three important ways you can get significant discounts:
- Firstly, these companies often offer discounts — LASIK Vision Institute goes so far as to offer a Groupon. If they aren’t offering you at least 20% off, I would wait until they do — after all, it is an elective surgery that is not time-critical. Some locations may not budge on price, which may make them less price-competitive than your other options.
- The second is using an FSA or HSA to make the purchase tax-deductible, which can give you as much as a 30% discount on the procedure depending on your tax bracket.
- Finally, some places will offer discounts if you have vision insurance — even if your insurance doesn’t cover it, and even though they won’t actually bill your insurance.
In your cost / benefit calculation, don’t forget to include the cost savings for not having to buy glasses / contacts for at least 10 years (see “The Results” for more on that). You’ll still need to get annual eye exams, especially if you want to remain eligible for their “lifetime touch-ups” option.
The Technique: LASIK vs PRK
You might be surprised to learn that LASIK isn’t the only laser eye surgery in town. There’s another option — PRK — that achieves the same results by ablating the front of your cornea (after removing the epithelial layer) instead of peeling back a flap of your cornea. LASIK gives you a faster recovery time but PRK avoids (rare) complications in the future where impact to your face might dislodge the flap. PRK also burns through less of your cornea than LASIK. Read more about the difference between PRK and LASIK here.
I opted for PRK because I prefer upfront discomfort to potential future medical emergencies. That being said, if you aren’t big on boxing or international travel, your odds of dislodging are quite low and you might be better off enjoying a shorter recovery time. Make sure to discuss both options with your LASIK professional, as the best option may also depend on the equipment they use.
After undergoing an exam, selecting my options and forking over a pile of cash (well, plastic), we set a surgery date for later that week. It’s best done Thursday afternoons: your eyes will be blurry (and potentially painful) for the first three days, so with Thursday afternoon you can be back at work on Monday.
After Ubering to the doctor for the exam (since you can’t drive home), they give me an anti-anxiety pill, apply local anesthetic drops to my eyes, and wait a few minutes for everything to kick in. They then lased my eyes one at a time, applying an alcohol solution then having me look into a green light for a few seconds. They even tape your eyes open so that you can’t blink — it was awkward, but not difficult or painful.
In all of my research, finding concrete answers about the recovery process was the least fruitful. Every body varies, so know that this is just my experience and yours will differ (especially if you opt for LASIK instead of PRK).
After the surgery, you should go straight to bed and avoid screens, which is the advantage of doing it late in the afternoon (although the rate of complications for surgeries tend to be higher in the afternoon). My vision was frustratingly bad for the next three days, to the point of needing my roommates to read instructions on frozen meals to me. I basically just sat in bed listening to podcasts and applying their regime of eye drops (for the first week, I had to apply multiple drops 4x per day).
Although they say that you can go back to work after the third day, my vision was still quite blurry for the next two weeks. I had to increase font sizes on my computer and still found it difficult to productively use screens for any extended period.
After about one week, I felt comfortable driving again. If you have to drive every day, the recovery period may be more challenging / expensive.
Within a month, my vision had fully recovered. In fact, I went skiing three weeks after the surgery! (Note: you MUST wear UV protection while outside for the first month after the surgery, including driving a car)
Now, two months after the surgery, I’ve continued to enjoy excellent vision both near and far, exactly as claimed.
It’s important to note that the results of LASIK / PRK aren’t permanent. Neither procedure fixes your eyes “for life”: in your 40’s or 50’s, everyone’s eyes naturally lose the ability to focus on close things (presbyopia), so you will end up needing reading glasses at that point. But, unless you undergo a major medical change like pregnancy or diabetes, the treatment itself does last a very long time — many people who had the surgery 10 or even 15 years ago still don’t need glasses, and technology has improved since then.
Because of this, you’ll get the maximum value out of the procedure by doing it in your 20’s or 30’s… but it can still absolutely improve your quality of life well into your 40’s and 50’s, and they now offer a technique called “monovision” that corrects one eye to be nearsighted and one to be farsighted, allowing you to continue to enjoy glasses-free living well into old age. Surprisingly, everyone I talked to with monovision said it was great and that their eyes were able to adjust without issue— even though it sounds like it would be a constant headache.
It worked! I now have laser vision. Alas, I can’t shoot lasers out of my eyes (maybe they’ll have that as an add-on for LASIK in 2050?)
The real question is: was it worth it? For almost $2,000 and a fair amount of hassle and lost time, I won’t need glasses or contacts for at least 10, hopefully 20, maybe even 30 years. And it’s very nice to not need to think about cleaning them, losing them, scratching them, or getting new prescriptions. It’s especially nice when you’re in the rain or snow, or doing an activity like skiing or swimming where glasses would interfere.
But, it’s also not perfect: while outside, you’ll still want to protect your eyes from UV, otherwise you risk cataracts (even if it’s cloudy). So you’ll still have to worry about glasses, but they’ll be much cheaper and you’ll have a lot more style flexibility.
In summary: it depends on you and your lifestyle. The cost itself may depend on your prescription — but the worse your prescription, the more LASIK will benefit your quality of life. It’s also not a lifetime cure, so the older you are, the less value you’ll get from it. And the convenience gained varies greatly by lifestyle: if you’re like me and sit at a desk all day, it might not improve your life that much. Glasses also make you appear more intelligent. But if you love traveling, sports or the outdoors, you’ll get a lot of extra freedom and flexibility.
There’s no clear answer, but one thing’s for sure: the answer will be clearer if you decide to get laser vision.
P.S. If you do decide to get LASIK, I had a great experience with The Lasik Vision Institute. Although there are many great providers out there, if you do decide to use LVI, you can use my referral code for both of us to get some extra cash by calling 866–580–5179, speaking with Amanda Stout, and providing the code MEDT000077.