Eye laser surgery safe, say doctors

BEIJING - Eye doctors in the capital are expressing confidence in laser eye surgery, or LASIK, despite the safety concerns that a Taiwan specialist raised this week.

Ray Tsai, an ophthalmologist and LASIK pioneer, told Taiwan media on Tuesday that he plans to cease performing the surgeries after learning that some patients who had undergone it had experienced sudden losses of vision and had developed other complications.

Industry analysts estimate that 1.5 million LASIK eye operations are performed on the mainland a year, each costing at least 6,000 yuan (S$1,208).

Wang Enpu, dean of the ophthalmology department of the Air Force General Hospital in Beijing, said no countries or regions in the world have halted LASIK treatments, the efficacy of which has been proved.

LASIK is a type of refractive surgery that reshapes the cornea to correct myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism, experts said.

"As long as surgeons follow the correct procedures, I've never seen a single patient come back because of complications caused by the surgery," said Wang.

He said LASIK is known to lead to fewer complications than other types of eye surgery.

He also said the technology used in the procedure has improved during the past 10 years.

Even so, he said patients who undergo the surgery may have to wait a fairly long time afterward for their corneas to heal.

He also said that those parts of their eyes will forever be weaker and more susceptible to damage.

"Anyone has to be more careful for the rest of his life with a part of the body that has undergone surgery," he said. "Most hospitals offer free eye checkups for a year after the surgery."

The US Food and Drug Administration says LASIK, like most operations, entails risks.

It also said patients should be made aware of the complications that can arise from a treatment before they undergo it.

At the same time, the administration said most US patients who had undergone LASIK express satisfaction with the surgery's results.

Chen Bang, board director of Aier Eye Hospital Group, a leading ophthalmological institution in China, said in his micro blog that his hospital had performed the surgery on about 550,000 eyes and the incidence of post-operation adverse reactions was only 0.6 per cent.

Doctors in China must also pass special exams to be qualified to operate laser machines, said Wang.

Despite that precaution, there have been irregularities, he said.

"Some unqualified doctors also practice the surgery and some perform it on ineligible candidates to make a profit," he said.

And the devices' accuracy can greatly affect the outcome of the procedure, said Yu Jing, an ophthalmologist with No 10 People's Hospital of Tongji University in Shanghai.

"The new devices are expensive," she said. "Before 2004, there were many private and small hospitals competing in the market. It's much better now."

Liu Zhihua contributed to this story.