The Naked Eye’s live webinar on SMILE laser eye surgery last week unleashed a steady stream of questions for expert laser eye surgeons, Michael Lawless and Gerard Sutton. If you missed the webinar, we thought you might like to get answers to three of the most popular questions we received:
How safe is SMILE?
Several questions centred on the safety profile of the latest laser eye surgery procedure. Is SMILE just as good as LASIK? How can we tell it’s safe if it is so new? Professor Michael Lawless had this response:
This procedure is not exactly new. It began in 2008 and came to Australia in 2012. At that time, Gerard and I were not convinced from the clinical literature that it was an improvement on LASIK in terms of safety and accuracy, so we didn’t offer it to our patients at that stage. From 2013 onwards, studies were published that showed SMILE was at least as good and possibly more accurate than LASIK for higher errors – that is people with prescriptions above -4. It was also shown to cause less dry eye during healing. As we are committed to offering our patients the best possible results, we began to offer this surgery and have never looked back. It has really become our procedure of choice for this group of patients and the results have been very impressive.
The other point about this procedure is that it builds on decades of experience with PRK and LASIK. We thoroughly understand the cornea thanks to having done over 20,000 of these procedures each, and SMILE really just takes those procedures to a new level rather than being a whole new ball-game.
What’s laser eye surgery like?
Another popular topic was the day of surgery itself. What will I feel? What if I move my eye? What if I’m too nervous? How will I cope? Prof Gerard Sutton had this to say:
While you may feel sensation of touch and pressure during the procedure, you are highly unlikely to feel any sensation of pain. The eyes are fully anaesthetised with topical drops and we also give all our patients a Valium an hour before surgery to make sure you feel relaxed and calm. Most people are still a bit anxious, but they tend to rise to the occasion once they enter the laser suite. Most of the SMILE procedure involves a laser defining a disc of tissue within your cornea, and for this part, the laser is docked to your eye so you don’t have to worry about accidentally moving your eye. Some patients have eyes that are harder to access due to a prominent brow or nose, and there is always the slight chance that the laser won’t dock to our satisfaction. If this happens – and it’s very rare – you can either revisit the procedure at a later date or you can have a PRK procedure on the day. Results are equally good, but PRK takes longer to recover from.
What’s the risk of an infection from laser eye surgery?
Another series of questions related to complications. While about 1-2% of patients will have some issue after surgery, the vast majority of these are either a small under-correction (which means you are still slightly short-sighted or long-sighted) or some annoying dry eyes for a few weeks (or rarely, months) after surgery. But the big question is this: What is the risk of a serious and sight-threatening complication like an infection? Prof Gerard Sutton had this to say:
We have never had an infection from laser eye surgery at our practice, and we’ve performed many thousands of these procedures over the past 20 years. We tell all our patients that this is a safe procedure and we are very experienced at it, but it is still a surgical procedure and all surgery carries a small risk, no matter how safe it is.
Look out for our next webinar for the latest updates on laser vision correction and cataract surgery and a chance to pose your questions to our outstanding surgeons.