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Laser Eye Surgery: Is it Worth It?

This year marks my fifth year anniversary since getting laser eye surgery. CBC Marketplace recently aired a segment on Lasik MD, the leading provider of laser vision correction in Canada, so I thought this would be the perfect time to write about my experience.

If you’re fed up with glasses like I was, you’ve probably looked into laser eye surgery. My eye sight was perfectly fine until high school when I couldn’t see the blackboard anymore. I ended up wearing glasses throughout high school and college. When I got into university, I decided to look into laser eye surgery.

Like most people, my two biggest concerns were the cost and the actual surgery. I had no idea how much the surgery would cost. The commercials on TV advertised prices as low as $490 per eye. I was spending $300 a year alone on eyeglasses, so I thought it’d be worth looking into. Although my eyesight wasn’t great, I was far from blind (I didn’t wear coke bottle eyeglasses or anything). I could see perfectly fine, I just couldn’t clearly read things that were far away like street signs and fast food menus.

Laser Eye Surgery : Start to Finish

Booking an appointment with Lasik MD was easy. I phoned their toll-free phone number and set up an appointment for their offices in downtown Toronto. I completed a questionnaire about my medical history and performed some tests with the eye doctors. The tests were pretty routine – I was asked to read the letters off of an eye chart. I also had to look into binoculars to figure out my prescription. The doctors would use various lenses and ask me if my vision was clearer or worse.

After going through the tests, I met with one of the doctors to discuss price. I asked about the risks of side effects like blindness and double-vision and was told they were very remote, which put me at ease. I remember seeing the price tag of $490 per eye on the commercials. My eye sight wasn’t terrible, so I didn’t think my eye surgery would cost a lot more than that. When I found out about the cost my jaw almost dropped. I was offered two surgeries: Standard LASIK for $2,778 and LASIK Zyoptix for $3,980 (this didn’t include the $60 in eye drops). Both plans included five years of coverage. If I needed a second surgery within those five years, it would be covered.

I was determined to get the surgery done, so I didn’t let the price tag deter me. After doing some research, I settled on the LASIK Zyoptix surgery. It just didn’t make sense to put my eyesight at risk over saving $1,200. If the price seems a little steep, Lasik MD has a $0 down offer: you can get the surgery done today and pay later.

My surgery went really well and was over in less than 10 minutes. I’d be more afraid about getting knee surgery than laser eye surgery. I had the surgery on a Wednesday, so I took the next two days off work and rested at home on the weekend. I was exhausted after the surgery, but I had to keep putting eye drops in my eyes every few hours. I also had to attend a follow up appointment to make sure my eyes were healing properly. I remember waking up the day after the surgery and seeing how much my vision had improved – it was remarkable! I could finally see again!

The Downside of Laser Eye Surgery

I’d say the biggest downside to laser eye surgery is the cost. My eye sight wasn’t terrible and I ended up spending nearly $4,000. If you’re getting the surgery done, make sure you claim a medical deduction on your income tax return. If your employer provides health benefit coverage for eyeglasses, make a claim. If your employer offers a health spending account, you can deposit enough money in your account to cover the surgery. You’ll save money since you’re paying in before-tax dollars.

5 Years Later: Am I Satisfied?

It’s been five years since my laser eye. I’m fairly satisfied with the results. There are laser eye surgery horror stories out there, but so far I haven’t run into any issues. The only thing I’m disappointed with is how much my eye sight has regressed in five years. Although my eye sight is a lot better than before the surgery, it has gotten noticeably worse. I used to be able to read street signs and the menu at Tim Hortons with ease, but now they appear blurry and I sometimes have to squint. I’m no eye doctor, so I’m not sure if this is only my eyes regressing as they normally would, but it’s disappoint nonetheless.

Despite the upfront expense, I’ve saved a lot of money over the last five years on prescription eye glasses which used to cost about $300 a year.

If I could do it over again, would I get laser eye surgery? Despite my worsening eyesight, I’d probably say yes. I tried contact lenses and I didn’t like them. I hated glasses so much I’d rather walk around blind than wear them.

Laser eye surgery isn’t a cure all solution: I’ll still need reading glasses when I’m older, but at least I won’t have to worry about those for a few more years. There are risks: laser eye surgery is a relatively new procedure, so the long-term effects are largely unknown.

If you’re on the fence about laser eye surgery, I’d say to wait another few years. With every passing year the technology seems to be get better and the price falls.

Would you ever consider laser eye surgery? What concerns you more: the price tag or the surgical procedure?

About the Author: Sean Cooper is a single, first time home buyer and landlord located in Toronto. He has experience in the financial sector as a Pension Analyst, RESP administrator and Income Tax Preparer. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce in business management from Ryerson University. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCooperWrite and read some of his other articles here.

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About the author: Sean Cooper is a single, 20-something year old, first time home buyer located in Toronto. He has experience in the financial sector as a Pension Analyst, RESP administrator and Income Tax Preparer. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce in business management from Ryerson University. You can read some of his other articles here.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Sally January 8, 2015, 9:54 am

    I got the surgery done about two years ago. I had worn glasses for about 18 years by the time I got the surgery and my eyesight was extremely poor. I’m not sure on the terminology you used, but my surgery was PRK which is when they directly laser your eye as opposed to making a slit. I had to wear plastic lenses for about a week to let my eyes heal and needed three to four days off work to recover. I had some minor issues afterward (there was a slight irritation in my right eye) and the first 48 hours were brutal. My surgery cost $3890 but I had a coupon to save up to $100/eye and overall, it would have saved me money. I was paying about $200 for my glasses’ lenses and the cheapest frames I could find and another $80 for contacts. If I needed a touch-up, even though it’s covered, I don’t think I would for health reasons. I don’t regret getting the surgery and it’s still nice to wake-up and see clearly, but it isn’t an experience I want to repeat.

  • Brandon January 8, 2015, 10:10 am

    Would you say your eyesight regressed or your prescription is simply continuing to get worse over time? ie. if you didn’t get the eye surgery do you think your glasses would be getting thicker and ticker over time?

  • nobleea January 8, 2015, 12:04 pm

    My wife is keen on getting it but they have told her that they won’t consider it until her prescription stabilizes. I think it’s no changes in 2 years or something like that.

    I wonder if there is any difference in outcomes for the basic vs expensive surgery. I’ve always thought it was a bit of an unnecessary upsell. Would they really offer an unsafe procedure? I wonder if anyone has ever had one type of surgery on one eye and the other type on the other eye.

  • Noelle January 8, 2015, 1:43 pm

    I just got my laser eye surgery 6 weeks ago with Lasik MD. I had glasses since I was 8 years old and I waited until I was 25 because I wanted to make sure my eyes had stopped changing. My prescription hadn’t budged in over 2 years so it was finally time! I was blind without my glasses/contacts, so the difference would be very noticeable.

    I went for the latest most advanced technology, the custom wavefront lasik. I used a groupon for $1000 off so the $3980 dropped to $2980 plus another $60 in drops. All of it is tax deductible so at tax time I can expect another $1000 back. So after everything it’s only about $2000, which is definitely worth it.

    The best part: I can see!!! No more glasses fogging up, no more dry contacts, I can wake up and see what time it is! I recommend it now, but we’ll see how long it lasts. I’m not sure I’d want to go through it again if my vision was just slightly off. But I have 3 years of free enhancements, I didn’t buy the lifetime enhancements because I think it’s not worth it. I’d say if it lasts 5-10 years I’ll have gotten my money’s worth :)

  • Philippe January 8, 2015, 2:07 pm

    I have had my surgery done in 1996, at 27 years old. I also was wearing coke bottle glasses (-14, or there about…).
    THe doctor had told me that there was only a 50% chance that I’d be able to see correctly without glasses event after the procedure.

    I gladly took the chance, as even if I was not 100% corrected, it would still be A LOT better than how I was seeing.

    Almost 20 years later, and I still do not regret it. I would do it over again, even if the first 3 days for each eye (they were done on separate occasions, just in case…) were very painfull. Imagine having a load of sand dumped in your open eyes everytime you blink…… :)

    After I had the operation, I was not at 100% but my vision was good enough to be able to re-pass my driving licence without glasses.

    The only downside I have is the I see a halo around lights at night, which can be burdensome, but now I don’t notice it that much.

    So…. Is it worth it? Totally. Absolutely.
    Not even financially, but for the quality of life that it brings. This stuff is priceless. I can now see what time it is when I wake up in the morning, walk around on the beach and be able to see the nice sights ;) No lost or broken glasses, no infection because of a dirty contact lens, etc…. No foggy glasses when you come inside after a (very) cold walk outside…

  • CraigM January 8, 2015, 6:29 pm

    I can’t believe everyone is so crazy positive.

    I’m a little more risk-averse when it comes to my eyesight than I am with money. When the same procedure has been around for my remaining life expectancy and the money works out as less than glasses, I might consider it.

    I really have no problem with glasses – I’ve worn them since I was 7, I use disposable contact lenses for soccer.
    I run to work in the winter, once or twice a year I might have to take them off because of freezing rain on my glasses. Not worth looking into the big scary laser with my remaining eye.

    My employer covers 1 pairs of glasses and 1 set of lenses every 2 years, so the amount I spend is pretty minimal.

  • Tawcan January 8, 2015, 7:23 pm

    Very interesting article and love your first hand personal view on laser eye surgery. I’ve been wearing glasses/contacts for over 15+ years now. I generally wear contacts and they feel comfortable in my eyes. I’ve heard from a few people that had laser eye surgery that their eyesight worsened after 3 – 4 years. Some of them actually have to wear glasses again.

    Considering my eye sights are OK I think I’ll stick with contacts and glasses for now. :)

  • Brian January 8, 2015, 7:45 pm

    I had this done before laser was invented, they used a diamond tipped blade.
    I love it, no question. before this was done I couldn’t see the clock radio at night , and the numbers were huge!
    Your sight is probably changing because you hit the 40+ milestone (I’m guessing). My eyes started to change when I hit 40 something and now I use reading glasses.
    The worst part is the glare at night, like a starburst.
    One eye has gotten worse than the other. I’m going to go see the Doc about a lens replacement. I know 3 people who had their lenses done because of cataracts, perfect vision once again. No idea if this is realistic or not, that’s why I’m going to see the Doc.

  • Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist January 9, 2015, 12:21 am

    It’s great to hear so many people have had positive experiences with laser eye surgery. It truly is a life-changing experience! I like to cycle a lot, so glasses were a real pain. Laser eye surgery was well worth it in my books!

  • Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet January 9, 2015, 12:48 am

    I’ve heard the pricing on laser eye surgery is totally dependent on how bad your vision is and the advertised price (I think it’s $500 per eye?) is misleading since the large majority of people pay much more. I think the price you paid is much more common than the discounted prices they advertise. I have thought about getting it done but I use contacts (and glasses) and since my work has a pretty solid health spending plan I don’t usually have to pay. Granted, I get my glasses for cheap online and not often but still not bad and I actually don’t mind contacts (but I don’t like glasses)

  • Elbyron January 9, 2015, 3:21 pm

    Their advertised prices are a joke. You would have to have like 25/20 vision already in order to get that price… and nobody with good vision is going to bother seeking further enhancement.

    I did my surgery at Lasik MD in Edmonton, and I’m pretty happy with the results. They quoted me around $900/eye for the basic treatment with no insurance/free-followups, and about $3100 for the waveform laser. The latter option included a guarantee that they would continue to provide free enhancements until you got 20/20 or better, or until there was not enough corneal material remaining to do further enhancements. The thickness of your cornea is very important in deciding which treatment to choose, because the waveform laser removes less material and thus allows a higher chance of being eligible for enhancements afterwards – should you need them. Some people aren’t allowed to choose the cheaper treatment because their corneas are too thin relative to the amount of correction required, and some can’t even use waveform laser (PRK is the only option then, and it’s more costly and has long recovery times). I wasn’t very much afraid of the surgery, unlike others who shudder at the very thought of a knife in their eye. My surgeon (Dr King) had performed tens of thousands of operations, so I trusted that he wouldn’t screw anything up. The laser itself is a medical device and both the machine and its software are subject to intense testing and quality requirements, and if a failure ever occurred in any of the machines world-wide, there would be a massive recall. So I don’t know what everyone’s so afraid of. Sure there are a few horror stories, but I doubt those are the fault of the surgeon or the machine, it’s just that a very small number of people don’t heal properly afterwards, or perhaps they were not a good candidate for the surgery and proceeded anyway (some clinics might stretch what they consider to be a “good candidate, and could take some of the blame). And some people are just idiots and will rub their eyes afterwards or get it infected somehow, which can end badly. If you follow their instructions you’ll be just fine. But back to my story…

    I chose the $3100 option but got a 10% discount from the vision program that my health plan included. I was also able to claim $300 on my wife’s insurance. The procedure itself was painless, and while slightly uncomfortable it’s no worse than the annoying tests they do beforehand to determine your eligibility. They clamp your eyelashes to hold your eye open so you can’t mess things up by blinking. They numb your eye before the cut. The surgeon makes a small slit in the outer material and lifts the flap, then the laser blinks and very quickly reshapes your eye. The flap is replaced and then they do the other eye. My appointment was in the evening and within an hour or two I could see just as well as I did before the surgery. By the next morning I could see even better, and no longer needed glasses. On my 1-week followup appointment I was at 20/20 and was quite happy with the result. I think there were also a couple more follow-ups after that to make sure it didn’t bounce back. I had no side effects (not even dry eyes which is common), but I used the drops they gave me anyway. My night vision is fine with no halos or anything. It’s possible my eyesight has degraded in the few years that have passed, but I haven’t noticed and haven’t bothered getting tested.

    Since I hated having to wear glasses & contacts, and really only wore them when I had to for driving & sports, paying what amounted to about 4% of my annual salary at the time was VERY worth it. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to people on a tight budget or who are living paycheque to paycheque – even with the 0% financing – I think it’s well worth it to anyone who can afford it. You really shouldn’t be afraid of the surgery itself, as you’re much more likely to get in a car accident on your way to the appointment than you are to have something go wrong with the surgery!

  • Charlene January 10, 2015, 1:43 am

    I had 5 great years post lasik and then my eyesight started to decline. I have friends with similar experiences and friends who are 15+ years with no problems. It’s a gamble.
    I was a great candidate, my vision hadn’t changed in 20 years prior to surgery, and I had no other issues with my eyes. Now I wear glasses for distance again, but no problems reading.
    You have to decide whether you are ok with the possibility it may not work permanently.
    I don’t regret having the procedure. There are no guarantees.

  • Ray January 13, 2015, 4:47 am

    Get hard contacts, wear them while you sleep. Called orthokeratology. It costs $400 one-time, and you never worry about contacts or glasses again. Completely non-invasive. On it 10 years now. You’re welcome.

  • Andrew Reid January 14, 2015, 10:00 am

    I’m with CraigM on this one. I wear lens from time to time which is cover through my health plan along with a pair of glasses every few years. Though in my case, my eyesight isn’t all that weak (+1.5).

  • Financedin January 16, 2015, 12:58 am

    I’m glad to hear you’ve had a positive experience with laser eye surgery. I’ve been using contacts and eye glasses most of my life, the only thing that’s stopping me from getting surgery done are the costs. Hopefully it’ll get more affordable in the upcoming years.

  • Scott January 16, 2015, 11:00 am

    Good read Sean, I found your article thanks to the globe and mail and I thought I should add my own experience for readers. I had the surgery done about 15yrs ago (i’m 40 now) and unfortunately I don’t remember what the cost was (maybe 500 per eye?). I had it done at Lasik Canada, who no longer exist, i think they were purchased by Lasik MD or one of the others. Anyway, my experience was very much like yours other than I have not had any degradation since, I still have 20-10 vision, my optometrist marvels at how well my eyes have held up and said they did a great job with the surgery! I’m now wearing reading glasses at work to reduce eye strain since i’m in front of a computer all day, and I have noticed the reduction in close-up vision as well as a slowing of my focus speed (just like they said would happen at the time of my surgery) but I continue to do little eye exercises (focus on things at different distances while at my desk) so hopefully my vision will hold up for many years to come!
    Scott

  • John January 16, 2015, 1:51 pm

    I had Lasik eye surgery done at TLC in Waterloo 4 months ago. Like you, I started wearing glasses in high school/college when I found I couldn’t read the blackboard any longer. I went 20 years of using glasses and contact lenses and finally decided to go for it when I turned 40. Obviously one of my concerns was how long would I go being free from glasses such as reading glasses since I was already 40. My optometrist recommended Monovision, where one of my eyes would be under-corrected, or slightly nearsighted. Of course you give up some sharpness in distance, but to date I have no issues with distance at all, and I can read papers or computer screens clearly. I was surprised that TLC didn’t mention this to me during my consultations, but I am glad I went with monovision, especially if it delays my need for reading glasses.

    I paid ~$3,700, plus an additional $700 for the follow up appointments. My insurance and my wife’s paid for a portion of it. No regrets whatsoever.

  • Marina January 30, 2015, 5:14 pm

    I had laser eye surgery done about 17 years ago when I was 30 years old, and it cost me $4000 at the time. It was through an opthalmologist, not Lasik MD (I don’t think they existed at the time). For 11 years everything was perfect, and I still think this was the best money I’ve ever spent, a truly worthwhile investment. Around 6 years ago, when I was 41, I noticed that my vision wasn’t as good anymore, and my optometrist recommended glasses for distance. My vision has been getting worse since then, although it is still much better than before the laser surgery.

    A couple of my friends had laser surgery with Lasik MD in their mid-30s, and both of them noticed that around the time they turned 40 their eyesight started to get worse again. I don’t know if it was just a coincidence, but I do think it’s weird that all of us needed glasses again when we were around 40 years old (although none of us are as nearsighted as we were before the surgery). Has anyone else noticed this? Is is age-related?

  • Sosuke Aizen May 15, 2015, 12:52 am

    I had laser eye surgery in 1998 when I was 33 years old, and haven’t needed any follow-up surgery or corrective lenses. I strongly recommend laser eye surgery, because the comfort and convenience of not wearing glasses or contact lenses is worth it. Prescription lenses and frames are all over-priced. The money saved from not paying for those rip-offs will pay for the surgery.

  • DJ August 10, 2016, 9:45 pm

    Got laser eye surgery and all I’ll say is consult this: http://lasikcomplications.com/

    I would pay $100,000 to get my original eye sight back with no dryness etc…

  • Patrick August 12, 2016, 3:24 pm

    Consider this before being so happy to get rid of your glasses:
    You will need to buy sunglasses now. ($$ for good ones)
    You will have to wear protective eyewear if your work requires it.
    If you cycle you will probably need to wear protective eyewear too .($$ for cool ones)

    I don’t have to worry about these things, because I wear glasses. As I moved into my 40’s my eyesight rapidly worsened- this probably would have happened had I had Lasic in my 30’s, and I would be back to where I was before.
    Older folk with cataracts seem to benefit by the lens replacement surgery, but that’s not Lasic…

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