Some of you might have worn glasses for a while. Others with 20/20 vision have never had to worry about anything but which pair of designer shades to buy on your next visit to Bal Harbour. But wait. The bad news is that once you get past 40-I know, no one over 40 lives in South Beach-you will notice subtle changes. At restaurants, you will hold the menu a little further away so you can make out the small type; at Sephora you will ask someone to read the back of the label; and yes, even oversized Ocean Drive might need to be held further away to read the delicious columns.
About one in four people are nearsighted, where you can see things close but things far away seem blurry. The other condition, farsightedness, in which seeing for distance is a breeze and reading is a challenge, is far more pervasive. It is one of aging’s downsides.
So we are faced with choices. At Walgreens you can slip on a pair of those plastic reading glasses your grandmother wore, see how much you can read off the little card on the swivel stand, and after making certain no one you know is in the store, pay only $14.99. But you will have to take them every time you go out, and if you don’t wear them on a chain around your neck you will lose them in a week. You also could go to a chic eyewear store, have an exam, pick out cool designer frames, customize your lenses and spend $500. You won’t see any better than with the Walgreens specials, but you’ll look much more chic, though you’d still have the problem of where to put them and how not to lose them. Contacts? Easy to use once you get used to them but a pain between the cleaners, solutions and travel gear. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled “New Thinking on Eye Infections and Contacts” discussed serious eye problems caused by a common amoeba found in most water supplies and was enough to make you toss your Bausch & Lombs into the garbage.
Which brings us to the real purpose of this column: Should you LASIK? You have probably heard about it or have a friend who has done it, but just to refresh your memory, LASIK-which stands for Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis-is quick laser surgery that can restore your vision to 20/20 or better. Luckily for us, the country’s number-one-rated eye clinic-according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of top hospitals-is here in Miami: the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Bascom, founded in 1962, has just reached a deal to collaborate with Moorfields, the largest and most prestigious eye hospital and training center in the United Kingdom.
LASIK has been around since 1960, when Spanish ophthalmologist Jose Barraquer first developed a crude technique to cut thin flaps in the cornea and alter its shape. Twenty years later, an IBM researcher, Rangaswamy Srinivasan, discovered that an ultraviolet laser could etch the eye precisely with no damage to the surrounding area. This led to LASIK in 1990, when two doctors, Italian Lucio Buratto and Greek Loannis Pallikaris, melded all prior techniques.
I could have had LASIK in 1990, when it was hot in Manhattan, but I don’t like trying new medical procedures until they have been tested on other guinea pigs and doctors get some experience. And when it comes to my eyes, I am even more squeamish than I am going to the dentist. But it has been worth the wait, as long as you choose a top clinic with doctors who have performed the procedure many times. Leading eye institutes such as Bascom feature faster, more precise lasers, equipment that allows bladeless incisions, and optimized techniques that greatly improve their reliability compared to a decade ago.
Bascom is one of only six centers in the nation that performs “custom LASIK,” in which wave-front technology offers microscopic adjustment for each patient’s particular set of vision deficiencies. The payoff is that 98 percent of patients end up with 20/20 vision or better, while 70 percent can boast an astonishing 20/16 or better.
Amazingly, the entire procedure takes about 20 minutes, and you will see better by the time you leave the office. Within a week, you will be at your peak. The downside is that a few people get an infection, requiring antibiotics. Others may need a tweak to make things perfect. But not everyone is a candidate for LASIK. About 25 percent are too nearsighted or have corneas that are too thin. Fortunately, other procedures can sometimes help these people as much as LASIK.
My husband, Gerald, and I went to Bascom and sat through three hours of four different exams with a million dollars in high-tech machines you have never seen at your local optometrist. Testing is free. It turns out we are both candidates. I need surgery on both eyes and Gerald on just one, and since you pay by the eye ($2,250), he is getting a great bargain. Dr. Sonia Yoo, who looks more like a model than a doctor, told us, “Actually, the younger you are, the better. If people see us in their 20s, they can get decades of near perfect vision.”
Here are a few other tips: Wear sunglasses as much as possible. They really protect the eyes. Take foods and supplements that are great for vision. Blueberries and bilberries strengthen capillaries and prevent loss of sight (bilberry jam was fed to World War II fighter pilots to enhance their night vision). Eyebright is a European plant used since the Middle Ages to help vision, as are lutein and zeaxanthin, two wonder supplements that have been proven to protect eyes and delay age-related problems.
So after a quick session at Bascom Palmer, a few supplements, and blueberries, your eyes should be perfect. Gerald and I are booked for a late-June LASIK. When you next see us, he will recognize you from across the street, and I will be reading menus without glasses. Now go over the causeway and see the world a little clearer.