Lasik safety questioned by Former FDA Regulator

FRESNO, Calif.

Dr. Morris Waxler officially retired from his position in 2000. He says his change of heart came after receiving complaints from people who suffered from serious side effects from Lasik surgery. But one local ophthalmologist says a lot has changed since then. Safety being the number one thing.

More than 700,000 Lasik procedures are performed every year in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. But a former FDA official who helped approve the procedure in the 1990's says many people don't know what they're getting themselves into.

"I think people don't understand this is not like getting your nails done. It's not like getting a curler in your hair." Dr. Waxler said.

Dr. Waxler is now urging the agency to take steps to address what he calls "the epidemic of permanent vision problems" caused by Lasik.

Here's how it works. A thin flap of the outer cornea is lifted out of the way. Then a laser flattens the inner cornea.

Critics say that compromised cornea can develop microscopic scar tissue and cause problems including blurred vision. Some Lasik patients say they develop these issues right after having surgery.

"My vision fluctuates very frequently and I have to have new glasses constantly." said Lasik patient Barbara Berney.

Waxler's analysis of FDA data shows half of Lasik patients experience side effects and more than a third continue to need glasses or contacts.

"In this day in age unless you have a really extreme prescription, it's unusual to develop glare or halo after surgery." added Dr. Michael walker of EYE-Q laser center in Fresno.

Dr. Michael Walker is a Valley ophthalmologist and has performed Lasik surgery on more than 16,000 patients.

He disagrees with Doctor Waxler's analysis because the data comes from the late 90's and that technology has improved dramatically over the years.

"It gets better every year, it certainly get faster and more refined but if I didn't believe the procedure were safe and effective I certainly wouldn't be doing it." Dr. Walker added.

One thing Dr. Walker does agree on is that a Lasik candidate must be "perfect" for the procedure. He says most Lasik side effects are minor or temporary and that complications are much lower with today's modern Lasik. Nevertheless the FDA is now reviewing the procedure.

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