Everyone knows somebody who had LASIK with results that diminished over time. I’d imagine there’s a possibility you may even be that somebody, if you clicked on this article to see if I’d tell the truth. I respect that. And good news! I am going to tell the truth. There was a time when LASIK would wear off over the years. That time happened to be when LASIK was extremely popular around 20 years ago. It was new and everyone was talking about it. And since everyone was talking about it and it was new, it didn’t take long for people to hear a lot about the results of LASIK being temporary.
I have more good news, though, beyond just that I am going to tell the truth. The rest of the good news is about the actual truth itself. Over the last 20 years, LASIK did what most technology did — it advanced and improved. So the question “how long does LASIK surgery last?” is kind of like the question “how good is the average computer these days?” The year you are asking changes the answer entirely.
Why was LASIK less accurate back then?
The reason LASIK had diminishing returns more frequently than acceptable (I word it that way because it didn’t wear off in the majority of cases, even in the old days) is because of how treatments were done back then. Namely, slowly. They were slow as molasses compared to modern LASIK. If you had smoking fast laser back then, it would be about 15 pulses per second. Go to a university with access to the next generation of laser? 30 pulses per second. The laser at Hunter Vision, which is the best laser in the US and found all over the US these days, treats at 500 pulses per second.
Why should that matter?
So what if a treatment takes two minutes or two seconds as long as it does the same thing? That’s an excellent question, but it is a question that doesn’t apply in this case. The extra speed wasn’t sought after to make a 33 second treatment take only 1 second. It was used to decrease the size of the laser pulses. Now instead of a broad stamp of laser, sometimes 6 millimeters in diameter, it is a small dot of laser about 0.9 millimeters in diameter.
If you want to create a painting with fine detail, then you’re going to reach for a fine brush instead of a paint roller. The same is true with the detail of laser treatment. The natural curvature of the cornea can be preserved so much more accurately today than was ever possible back in the early days of LASIK. And that makes the difference. A cornea that changed shape significantly with old laser had a much, much higher chance of trying to “heal” and, in so doing, gain back some of the bad vision that was lasered away.
What are LASIK results like today?
With modern laser, the treatments are just... artwork. It almost makes me sound like a devoted fan of some brilliant musician or artist to talk about it. But honestly, beauty is beauty, and it’s sometimes hiding in places where only devoted fans can admire and celebrate it. Modern laser should be celebrated. The treatments are so smooth and beautiful now that the vision can be better than ever before, and the duration of that new vision can last longer than ever. To sum it up in one sentence: modern LASIK creates lasting, permanent treatments now with exceptionally low chances of temporary results. In our practice, with tens of thousands of LASIK cases done over the years, it’s about once a year someone will return at some point after the first year with a treatment that didn’t last.
Author: Joel Hunter, MD is an Ophthalmologist, Refractive Surgeon, and the Founder of Hunter Vision, a LASIK Orlando Clinic in Florida. A recognized and respected specialist in vision correction who has performed a countless number of refractive surgeries, Joel gives lectures across the country and trains fellow doctors in the newest LASIK surgery techniques.