Your questions on laser eye surgery answered:
Is There An Upper Age Limit?
Laser eye surgery is fast becoming one of the most common means of treating visual impairments. Ground-breaking technology now allows patients to permanently improve their vision in short surgeries lasting just seconds relieving the need for glasses or contact lenses. One of the primary concerns of laser eye surgery is age, and whilst you must be 18 and above to undergo these treatments in order to ensure that eyes that are fully developed to avoid complications as the patients eyes mature an upper age limit is still a little bit of a grey area. Can you really be too old for laser eye surgery? It turns out in some cases, yes.
Types Of Surgery
There are two main types of laser eye surgery; LASEK and LASIK. LASEK is the more simple procedures and involves utilising a laser to shape the lens for optimal vision and is generally used to treat milder visual impairments including slight short sightedness or astigmatism.
LASIK is suitable for both short and long sightedness and for more severe impairments. The procedure involves making an incision in one side of the cornea and folding it backwards like a door on a hinge. This allows the laser to access the lens directly, reshaping and removing certain parts to improve a patient’s sight.
While there are no official guidelines by the Department of Health with regards to age limitations, some clinics do impose age restrictions for laser eye surgery. Some clinics invite people of all ages, whereas some cap their limit at around 70 years of age. One of the main reasons for clinics imposing an age restriction is that two of the most common visual complaints amongst the older generation, presbyopia and cataracts, cannot be treated by either LASEK or LASIK.
A study published by the British Medical Journal concluded that steroid drops prescribed following the surgery to aid healing and prevent infection could even cause cataracts and glaucoma. While this risk is low, it is much higher in the older population who are vulnerable to these conditions due to natural changes the body goes through with age.
Of course, one of the main considerations of laser eye surgery for the older generation is that all surgery, no matter how quick, simple or painless, carries risks. As the surgery is carried out under local anaesthetic, the risks are reduced, but even local anaesthetic has been known to cause nerve damage in certain cases.
A further consideration is cost as although laser eye surgery is available on the NHS, it is only available for conditions that cannot be managed through the use glasses or contact lenses. Therefore, most patients have the surgery privately, which can cost between £1,000 and £2,000 depending on the condition and the chosen method of treatment.
For older patients in particular, it’s also worth thinking about the possible extended recovery time, as there’s a risk of dry and painful eyes and also a risk of the brain taking longer to adjust to the corneas new shape.
For older patients who either decide not to go ahead with the treatment, find they are not suitable, or who are unable to find a clinic that accepts them, there are some alternatives to laser eye surgery. For patients with cataracts, cataract surgery is a very simple operation performed on the NHS which has minimal risks and maximum success and is considered safe for the older population who are most likely to suffer with the condition.
For other forms of visual impairment, ICL treatment is a good choice. Implantable contact lenses are personalised for individual vision just like regular contact lenses, but sit inside the eye rather than over the top.
Finding A Clinic
A good place to start looking for a clinic is at your local opticians. While some of the big name companies may offer this service, others often have connections with clinics and can refer you for treatment. Your GP may also have a list of local clinics and will be able to tell you if you’re eligible to receive the treatment on the NHS.
For those considering other avenues, always bear in mind that it’s important to read up on companies who advertise in the newspaper, on TV or online. While most are legitimate, never book an appointment without checking both the reputation of the clinic and the credentials of the surgeon. All surgeons should be registered with the General Medical Council in the UK and clinics should always offer pre-surgery consultations and adequate aftercare. If in doubt, your GP should be able to advise you on this as well.