LASIK eye surgery can be an excellent way for adults to improve their vision and reduce the need for corrective eyewear. However, a common side effect of LASIK is dry eyes, or decreased tear production. It’s essential for those considering the procedure to understand the potential risk and how to manage dry eyes after LASIK.
What is LASIK?
LASIK is an abbreviation for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, a type of refractive surgery that reshapes the cornea to correct vision problems. The procedure involves using a computer-controlled laser to remove small amounts of tissue from the cornea, improving how light focuses on the retina.
Vision problems commonly corrected with LASIK surgery include the following:
- Nearsightedness (myopia). Nearsightedness, or myopia, is a common vision issue wherein far-away objects appear blurry. Nearsighted people can often see up close but have difficulty focusing on distant objects. In this condition, the cornea is too curved for light to focus correctly on the retina.
- Farsightedness (hyperopia). Farsightedness, or hyperopia, is a vision problem that occurs when close objects appear blurry. People with farsightedness have difficulty focusing on nearby things but typically can see far away clearly. In this condition, the cornea is too flat for light to focus correctly on the retina.
- Astigmatism. Astigmatism is a refractive error that causes blurred vision at any distance. It occurs when the cornea or lens is curved or shaped more like an egg than a sphere, which prevents light from focusing correctly on the retina.
What is Dry Eye Disease?
Dry eye disease is a common condition in individuals aged 21 and older. Patients with dry eyes have insufficient tears to lubricate and nourish the eyes, or the tears produced are of low quality.
Dry eye disease often causes discomfort, blurred vision, redness, and burning sensations. It has several causes, such as age, certain medications, hormonal changes, or environmental factors like windy weather or overuse of digital devices.
Why Do Some Patients Have Dry Eye After LASIK?
A combination of factors can cause eye dryness after LASIK. As the cornea is reshaped during the procedure, some nerve fibers are cut, which can lead to reduced sensation (feeling or awareness) in the eye. The eye can respond to the reduced feeling by not acknowledging the need for tear production, thus causing dryness and irritation.
The goal of reshaping the cornea is to change its curvature and improve vision. However, sometimes tears are unable to cover the entire new curved surface, leading to evaporative dry eye. Evaporative dry eye is a condition in which tears don’t remain on the eyes and are quickly lost, resulting in redness, stinging, itching, blurry vision, and light sensitivity.
Who is More Prone to Have Dry Eye from LASIK?
Certain patients may be more prone to having dry eyes after LASIK than others. Patients with preexisting dry eye disease are most likely to experience this side effect, as the altered corneal surface can exaggerate symptoms. Those who spend long hours using digital devices or are exposed to windy conditions may also experience more severe dry eye symptoms.
Other risk factors include the following:
Those With Severe Myopia (Nearsightedness)
Individuals with severe myopia (nearsightedness) are more likely to suffer from dry eyes after LASIK. Nearsightedness causes a high curvature in the cornea, requiring significant reshaping during the procedure. Further reshaping increases the risk of cut nerve fibers and lowered tear production.
Individuals Over the Age of 50
Dry eye is a common problem for those over the age of 50, as the production of tears decreases naturally with age. Individuals in this age group are more likely to experience dry eyes after LASIK due to their reduced tear production and sensitivity.
Females, especially postmenopausal women, are more likely to suffer from dry eye after LASIK. Hormonal changes occur during and after menopause which can cause reduced tear production and sensitivity. Postmenopausal women may also experience a decrease in their skin’s ability to produce oil, reducing the amount of lubrication available for the eye and making them more prone to irritation and dryness.
Those With Autoimmune Diseases (i.e., Sjögren’s Syndrome)
Patients with autoimmune diseases like Sjögren’s syndrome are at a greater risk of dry eyes after LASIK surgery. Autoimmune disorders can cause limited tear production and increased inflammation. Additionally, those with other autoimmune conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disease are likely to experience dryness after LASIK.
People Living in Dry Environments
Those living in dry, desert environments are more likely to suffer from dry eyes after LASIK due to the lack of humidity in those areas. Dry air can decrease tear production and sensitivity, making it difficult for the eye to remain properly lubricated. Dust particles may further irritate the eyes, which can cause additional discomfort and dryness.
What Treatments Are Available?
Treatment for dry eye caused by LASIK can vary depending on the severity of symptoms. Common treatments include the following:
- Artificial tears
- Warm compresses
- Medications such as anti-inflammatories
- Prescription ointments or gels
It’s vital to speak with your eye doctor if you’re experiencing dry eye symptoms following LASIK, as they can advise on the best treatment for your condition. Lifestyle changes like avoiding prolonged digital device use and exposure to windy conditions can help reduce symptom severity. Additionally, using protective eyewear while outdoors has proven effective.
Schedule an Appointment With the Experts at The Dry Eye Institute, Inc. in St. Louis
Dry eyes from LASIK often cause discomfort and irritation. If you recently underwent LASIK eye surgery and are experiencing symptoms, consult a dry eye specialist as soon as possible.
The Dry Eye Institute, Inc. in St. Louis specializes in identifying the root cause of your condition, diagnosing, and treating it accordingly. We have early access to new medications and treatments because we work with the manufacturers to evaluate their products and find those that work the best. You can be confident that your treatment will focus on your specific condition and needs.
Our experienced dry eye professionals are committed to providing you with the best possible treatment so that you can enjoy comfortable vision once again. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Bourn or Dr. Weis today.