To those who have been dependent on eyeglasses for most of their lives, waking up each morning and being able to see clearly is miraculous.

This is happening more and more, due to the popularity of LASIK surgery. LASIK (laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis) is now the most common eye surgery to correct poor vision.

Ophthalmologists in the United States have been doing this procedure since 1995, and now it has become one of the most common surgeries performed worldwide.

Radial keratotomy - a type of surgery done before the advent of LASIK - had been around for decades but the results were less predictable.

Some who underwent RK surgery found that their vision was excellent at first, but deteriorated over the following years. With LASIK surgery, it is less likely that vision will change much over time.

Most people have nearly 20/20 vision after the surgery. The expression 20/20 refers to normal vision. Having 20/100 vision means that you are nearsighted: you can see numbers on an eye chart from 20 feet away, but someone with normal vision could see them from 100 feet away.)

If you are nearsighted or farsighted and dependent on glasses or contact lenses, you may be a candidate for LASIK surgery. Ophthalmologists - M.D.s specializing in diseases and surgery of the eye - perform LASIK surgery, but optometrists - who specialize in evaluating the eyes and correcting vision with glasses or contact lenses - do not.

In general, you are eligible to have LASIK surgery if you:

•Are nearsighted or farsighted, with or without a stigmatism;

•Have had stable vision for the last two years;

•Are at least 18 years old;

•Are not pregnant or nursing;

•Do not have any other diseases of the eye, such as cataracts, glaucoma, scarring or thinning of the cornea; or,

•Do not have any other medical problem that would affect your body's ability to heal.

Before LASIK surgery, you will have one or more appointments with your ophthalmologist for an evaluation of your eyes and vision, and to take measurements of your eyes prior to surgery. LASIK surgery is an outpatient surgery; you go home afterwards.

It is done with local anesthetic (numbing eye drops), not general anesthesia. During the surgery, you are awake and reclining in a chair with your chin supported. You will be instructed to focus on a light ahead of you. Your eye will be numbed and held open with a special instrument so you cannot blink. First, a U-shaped flap is made on the surface of the eye, and the top layer of the cornea is lifted away.

Next, a laser reshapes the cornea. Then, the flap is replaced over the surface of the eye.

This procedure takes only about 15 minutes per eye. Immediately after the surgery, your vision will be foggy for a day or two. You will be given anti-inflammatory and antibiotic eye drops, and will need to use them regularly for the next week or so.

If all has gone as expected, you will no longer need glasses or contacts, though 20/20 vision is not guaranteed.

Most ophthalmologists have you return for a follow-up visit the day after the surgery, then regularly for a few months. By 3-6 months after the surgery, your vision will stabilize.

Most insurance plans do not pay for this type of surgery, or for any complications that may arise. Costs range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per eye. Like all elective (nonessential) surgeries, LASIK should only be done after you have carefully researched the topic, and feel comfortable with your ophthalmologist.

Traveling far for this surgery because it's cheaper may cost more in the long run if you develop complications and have to travel for follow-up care.

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Kathryn B. Brown is a family nurse practitioner with a master's degree in nursing from OHSU. Is there a health topic you would like to read about? Send your idea to kbbrown@eastoregonian.com.

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