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Does astigmatism prevent me from having LASIK surgery?

By Joel Hunter, MD | 7/25/18 7:00 AM
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NEO: What are you trying to tell me? That I can correct my astigmatism?

MORPHEUS: No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

This famous quote from The Matrix has never been more relevant than it is for our discussion today. Did I edit the quote in any way? Maybe. I can’t be sure because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie. But it’s pretty close from what I remember.

People with astigmatism almost universally have one thing in common:

They know they have it. It’s kind of unique in that way. Near-sighted and far-sighted get mixed up to the point a lot of folks aren’t sure which one’s theirs. Presbyopia is a term people hear and forget immediately because it’s boring. Cataracts and glaucoma oftentimes get used interchangeably. But astigmatism — astigmatism has staying power in the human mind.

I’m not sure why that is. About half the population has astigmatism, and if you’re reading this, then it’s probably your half. Yet there’s a decent chance you knew about your astigmatism and not everyone else’s. After all, you’ve got an ophthalmic condition with such a memorable, medical-sounding name; it seems like it must be relatively unique. Being unique is almost always a great quality, but nobody really wants a unique medical condition.

And that leads us to some really great news. Millions and millions of people have astigmatism. Why is that great? Well, you’ve got it either way, but if half of everyone has the same thing it means that a lot of money, effort, and time have been spent to fix it. Ideally, no one would have astigmatism. But the next best thing is if enough people have it that a cure is sought — so that no one has to have it.

When LASIK first became popular in the late ‘90s, it wasn’t able to correct astigmatism.

That timeline is helpful to remember because LASIK became a household name during that time. And people in those households said, “I have blurry vision, and I’d like to get rid of glasses and contacts. My vision is blurry from astigmatism. Can I have LASIK?” The resounding answer was (correctly), “No.”

People with astigmatism (and they all knew they had astigmatism) heard that from an optometrist or LASIK doctor, and the word spread far and wide to everyone. Why was the spread of this narrative so pervasive? Two reasons: first, it was correct, and second, astigmatism is the only eye condition that everyone remembers the name of perfectly.

Then LASIK evolved.

The lasers became unimaginably faster and more accurate. Impossibly complicated treatments from 1999 are now so easy that it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t easy. If you want a real life example of this outside the world of LASIK, just imagine how different the answer is now compared to 1999 if you ask, “Can my phone show me detailed satellite imagery of any location on earth?”

That’s how it is with LASIK and astigmatism now.

In the majority of cases (because not everyone is a candidate), LASIK can cure astigmatism. It’s hard to remember when it couldn’t. If you’re curious about how that isn’t more widely known, it’s because everyone has a phone and almost no one talks with LASIK surgeons. And that hurts my feelings, but at least you’re reading this article.

You can correct astigmatism with glasses and contacts (depending how much astigmatism, it may be one or the other). But with LASIK, it’s possible to get rid of the astigmatism altogether. Then there’s no need for correction because the astigmatism isn’t there anymore. You’ve become Neo, and you are ready.

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These articles are brought to you by Hunter Vision. We help people in Orlando discover life after glasses and contacts.
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