As a parent, you always want the best for your child, especially when it comes to their health, and one issue that affects many children is vision problems. In many cases, glasses or contact lenses can improve problematic vision. But for some children, laser eye surgery may be necessary to correct severe vision problems.
Although commonly associated with adults wanting to improve their vision and ditch their glasses, laser eye surgery is also a viable option for children under certain circumstances. This article provides a comprehensive guide on laser eye surgery for children, helping parents understand when it might be necessary, the procedures involved, potential risks, and post-operative care.
Considering laser eye surgery for your child is a major decision, especially for those who are functionally blind or have severe strabismus. Eye conditions impact the academic and social performance of a child, so educating yourself and understanding what the procedure entails is important. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Laser Eye Surgery?
Laser eye surgery is a procedure that reshapes the eye’s problematic cornea using lasers. The cornea is a dome-shaped part of the eye that helps focus light onto the retina. Poor corneal health can cause blurry vision, pain, and other problems. To correct such refractive errors, laser eye surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgery.
Several types vary in technique and recovery time: photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK), and laser-assisted subepithelial keratectomy (LASEK), a combination of the two.
During LASIK, the surgeon lifts a thin flap in the cornea, then reshapes the underlying tissue. In PRK, the cornea’s thin outer layer is removed completely, and the underlying tissue is reshaped. With LASEK, the cornea’s outer layer is partially removed and folded back to reshape the underlying tissue.
At Re:Vision you can learn more about how it works and how much it costs.
When Is Laser Eye Surgery Necessary For Children?
Regular check-ups and parents’ intuition can lead to early detection of visual problems, so these are addressed at an early stage. However, in some cases, the child is already in school and experiencing academic difficulties before a parent realizes the need to seek a doctor’s opinion. In general, if the child is old enough, prescription glasses or contact lenses are recommended.
Laser eye surgery is typically reserved for severe refractive errors that cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts or when wearing glasses or contacts is not feasible due to allergies or intolerance. For children, it is often used to treat conditions the following conditions:
1. Nearsightedness (myopia)
This condition causes distant objects to appear blurry.
2. Farsightedness (hyperopia)
In this condition, objects at a close distance may appear blurry.
An irregularly shaped cornea causes blurred vision.
Amblyopia (lazy eye) or anisometropic occurs when one eye has significantly better vision.
The three causes are very high refractive error, strabismus, and cataract. In some cases, laser eye surgery can help correct the imbalance in vision between the two eyes.
5. Very high refractive error
The child can be functionally blind, practically seeing nothing just two feet away but refuses to wear glasses because of neurobehavioral reasons.
6. Severe strabismus
This is otherwise known as crossed or misaligned eyes.
The child’s age, specific eye condition, and overall health will determine which surgical option is best.
Is Laser Surgery Safe For Children?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has approved laser eye surgery for patients at least 18 years old or those with stable prescriptions (eyes have not changed significantly in the past year). Laser eye surgery can be safe for children, but like all surgeries, there are potential risks, especially with anesthetics.
Some possible risks include infection, inflammation, and corneal haze. It is also possible for the child’s vision to be over-corrected or under-corrected, which can lead to further surgery. However, these risks are minimal with modern technology, experienced doctors, and strict adherence to post-op care.
Additionally, a child considered for surgery should be mature enough to understand instructions. For instance, not to rub the eye even if it feels gritty or itchy.
Benefits Of Laser Eye Surgery For Children
Laser eye surgery can offer many benefits for children who have severe vision problems. One of the biggest benefits is improved vision, leading to better academic performance and increased self-esteem.
Additionally, children who have laser eye surgery will stop wearing glasses or contact lenses—a big relief for children who have suffered from discomfort or had been subjected to teasing because they looked ‘nerdy.’ The huge improvement in vision is transforming—with some kids becoming more extroverted with their new vision.
It’s important to remember that a child’s eyes develop until they are about 20 years old. Therefore, refractive errors may still change after surgery, potentially necessitating additional procedures in the future.
Post-Operative Care And Expectations
After the surgery, your child may experience some discomfort, including a gritty feeling in the eye, tearing, or light sensitivity. These symptoms usually improve within a few days. Following the doctor’s instructions—like wearing an eye patch and applying medication to prevent dry eye, inflammation, and infection—is important.
You must ensure your child avoids rubbing their eyes, participates in no strenuous activities, and does not swim for at least a week post-surgery. They will also need to wear eye protection at night for a period.
There is a noticeable improvement in vision after a few days, although some patients report having hazy or blurry vision; complete healing may take two weeks. Follow-up visits with the ophthalmologist are crucial for monitoring healing progress and any potential complications.
Depending on your child’s specific eye condition and general health, laser eye surgery can be a safe and effective alternative to non-surgical approaches to improve your child’s vision. However, it is important to carefully consider the risks and benefits before deciding. Consult with a qualified pediatrician or care provider and research potential surgeons to ensure you make an informed decision.
While surgery can be nerve-wracking, today’s eye surgery techniques are incredibly advanced and safe. As a parent, you must be supportive, understanding, and actively involved in post-operative care because this stage will be crucial to your child’s successful recovery and ongoing vision health.