Seeing Clearly

By Simone Slykhous

June 15, 2015 5 min read

Imagine waking up in the morning, reflexively reaching for your glasses and realizing the unnecessary is futile. No more itchy eyes from your contacts. No more expensive solutions and drops and cases. No more fear of accidentally breaking your eyewear. Can this be real?

For millions of Americans, laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis makes this fantasy a reality. Better-known as Lasik, this procedure involves a doctor's using a laser to change the shape of your cornea. Baby boomers are a burgeoning market for Lasik and other corrective eye surgeries. With more education on health and well-being than their parents had, the older patients coming in for consultations usually have worn sunglasses most of their lives, do not smoke and follow healthy diets, and their eyes have clear lenses and little yellowing because of this.

Although there is an age minimum for corrective eye surgery -- the Food and Drug Administration has no approved lasers for people younger than 18, and most surgeons won't operate on 20-somethings if their eyesight remains in flux -- there is no age maximum. "People are living longer, and frankly, they have more money," says Roy S. Rubinfeld, M.D. "They are undergoing more plastic surgery procedures, and Lasik is a natural progression. Indeed, it is an alternative that is becoming increasingly popular among people over 50 or 55."

Though increases in medical technology have made corrective eye surgery safer than ever, there are a number of serious concerns you should discuss with your doctor first.

*General Health Concerns

As the lenses in your eyes age, they lose their focusing power. This causes trouble when you are trying to read or see up close. Called presbyopia, this is age-related and cannot be corrected with a standard Lasik procedure. If you are interested in eye corrective surgery because of presbyopia but have healthy eyes otherwise, you can consult with your doctor about monovision Lasik, which can minimize your reliance on reading glasses.

However, many seniors experience other ocular health problems. According to AgingCare.com, "by age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery." Cataracts are the clouding of your eye's lens. They interfere with the natural process of light passing from your lens to the retina. Having Lasik or another type of corrective eye surgery does not reduce the chance of cataracts, which could mean further eye surgery in the future.

Diabetes can also be a concern. Almost 26 percent of Americans 65 or older have diabetes, and diabetes can affect the body's ability to heal. Most corrective eye surgeons "do not consider an individual with uncontrolled or insulin-dependent diabetes to be a good candidate," according to AllAboutVision.com.

*Anatomic Concerns

If your prescription has changed in the past year, you are not considered a good candidate. According to the FDA, this refractive instability can be caused by hormonal changes, taking certain medication and pregnancy.

As most corrective eye surgeries change the eye's ability to focus by reshaping the cornea, possibly removing tissues, people with thin corneas might not be viable candidates. Dry eyes are another concern. Lasik often temporarily worsens such conditions, and doctors prefer to have cured the dry eye issue before preforming surgery. Deep-set eyes, cornea shape and abnormal positioning of your eyelids can all be concerns, as well.

*Monetary Concerns

According to Liz Segre of AllAboutVision.com, "in 2013, the average cost overall for laser vision correction was $2,073 per eye." With limited incomes, some seniors might not be able to handle this price. And many insurance plans don't cover vision correction surgery, because it is not considered essential. Younger patients might be more inclined to swallow this cost when they compare how much they would be spending on contact lenses, solution, drops, prescription sunglasses and prescription eyeglasses over the years.

Don't be too hasty in throwing away those contacts and glasses; instead, carefully consider all of your options before committing to corrective eye surgery. And then enjoy your new perspective.

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