Laser eye surgery:

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Medical technology improves every day. It makes life both easier and longer, and shows up in the attempt to make ourselves into our image of the perfect human being.

But it comes at a price.

Breast implants leak, cancer drugs cause nausea, hair loss and headaches, pacemakers break down.

There are side effects, risk factors, to changes in technology and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) isn't sure consumers are being fully informed about those risk factors. The most recent complaint? People aren't being told about the risks associated with and the possible side effects of lasik eye surgery.

The ability to do lasik (laser) eye surgery has been around for several years, but the procedure has sprung into the spotlight now that it is not only available, but fairly affordable.

And wildly popular.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the surgery, a method of permanently correcting vision problems, for public use in 1995 and laser eye surgery centers and surgeons have spouted up nationwide to cash in on the trend. There are more than 900 laser centers today, compared with 300 in 1996. All are working to attract their share of the more than 1.5 million eyes expected to have refractive laser eye surgery this year, up from 105,000 eyes in 1996.

Five years from now, surgeons are expected to perform laser surgery on more than 3 million eyes.

"The technology is getting better and cheaper," said Dr. Kirk Schott, an optometrist with Eye Care Specialities in Craig. "It's a very popular procedure."

Schott estimates that the doctors with Eye Care Specialties refer at least one person to Denver for laser eye surgery each week.

"I'd recommend it to anybody," Craig resident Randy Runyan said. "It was the best money I ever spent." Runyan and his wife have both had the surgery and are both thrilled with the results.

Not all people feel the same.

As the amount of people receiving laser eye surgery increases, so do the number of complaints.

The FTC has been receiving an increasing number of complaints about complications associated with the surgery and, to a lesser degree, about the lack of disclosures about the risks.

Before the surgery, a surgeon should explain the risks, possible complications, and potential side effects, including the pros and cons of having one or both eyes done on the same day. This is the "informed consent" process. Some risks and possible complications include:

n Over- or under-correction. These problems can often be improved with glasses, contact lenses and enhancements.

n Corneal scarring, irregular astigmatism (permanent warping of the cornea), and an inability to wear contact lenses.

n Corneal infection.

n Loss of best corrected visual acuity that is, you would not be able to see as well after surgery, even with glasses or contacts, as you did with glasses or contacts before surgery.

n A decrease in contrast sensitivity, "crispness," or sharpness. That means that even though you may have 20/20 vision, objects may appear fuzzy or grayish.

n* Problems with night driving that may require glasses.

n Flap problems, including: irregular flaps, incomplete flaps, flaps cut off entirely, and ingrowth of cells under the flap.

Several side effects are possible, but usually disappear over time. In rare situations, they may be permanent.

n Discomfort or pain

n Hazy or blurry vision

n Scratchiness

n Dryness

n Glare

n Haloes or starbursts around lights

n Light sensitivity

n Small pink or red patches on the white of the eye

"Most of the things they don't tell you about aren't serious," Runyan said.

Runyan believes the Colorado Springs doctor who performed the surgery didn't give him all the information about the possible side effects and risks. But that omission didn't concern him much.

"I did my research before I did it," he said. "I read up on it a tone before I had it done and I talked to lot of people. They all said they would do it again in a heartbeat."

Runyan had laser surgery done on one eye at a time, in case there were complications, so he wouldn't have problems in both eyes.

Complications are rare, Schott said. From the people he has recommended have the surgery, he said less than a handful have had problems.

"It's rare, but there are still some things done by hand," he said. "Surgeons still have to have some manual dexterity. The odds are pretty long, but it could happen."

The worst case Schott has confronted was in a woman whose vision was 20/20 with corrective lenses before the surgery and 20/40 with corrective lenses after the surgery.

The key in avoiding complications is making sure the surgeon has experience, Schott said. He recommends talking to other patients and getting references.

And like Runyan, do your research.

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