Laser surgery risks depend on the type of procedure and can include scarring, incomplete treatment, and infection. Patients considering laser surgery for vision correction, skin problems, cancer, and other issues should evaluate the risks and benefits carefully with a surgeon before proceeding. For some procedures, a laser may be the treatment of choice, while in others, a doctor may have recommendations for alternatives that would be more suitable.
In laser surgery, a surgeon uses a carefully directed beam of light to ablate tissue. The light heats the cells, causing them to rupture. The surgeon can use beams or pulses, depending on the technique, and calibrates the width and intensity of the beam to meet the needs of the surgery. Some types of laser surgery include vision correction, tattoo removal, skin resurfacing, and cancer treatment.
The most common risks of laser surgery are inflammation, infection, and bleeding at the surgical site. Even when conditions are sterile, the patient can still experience inflammation, and if patients don't care well for the surgical site or there are contaminants in the operating room, the patient may get an infection. Bleeding is common, and patients are also at risk of burns and permanent skin color changes, a particular concern with cosmetic skin procedures.
Another of the laser surgery risks is failure of treatment. With vision correction, the patient may have over- or under-correction, and could still need to wear corrective lenses after the procedure. In other procedures, the laser might not fully remove diseased tissue. Patients considering vision correction with lasers should also be aware of laser surgery risks like visual aberrations and vision loss. Although these are rare, they can cause significant quality of life problems for the patient.
Additional laser surgery risks can involve collateral damage. Patients may experience injuries to neighboring tissue if surgeons do not control the laser properly. There is also a potential risk of interactions between the laser and anesthetic gases, in the case of a patient under anesthesia. Incidents of this nature are very rare, but can cause airway burns and permanent respiratory complications.
Laser surgery risks tend to be reduced when patients work with an experienced surgeon in a facility with a good record. Patients can ask their surgeons for qualifications and may also look up ratings for surgeons and facilities in magazines and newspapers. These ratings provide information about complication rates, patient complaints, and other matters people may find interesting.