When I was a kid, I was really excited about laser eye surgery. I mean, who doesn’t want to have laser eyes? Maybe it would mean my eye would become super precise, using a laser pointer to target things far away. Maybe I’d become like Cyclops from X-Men, shooting beams out of a visor. The possibilities were endless! As it turns out, laser eye surgery does not, in fact, mean surgery where your eyes get lasers; it’s something a bit more mundane, but still incredibly cool.

Laser eye surgery could be more accurately called “laser-assisted surgery on your eyes”, but that name just isn’t flashy enough (sorry, little kids everywhere). Laser eye surgery is most commonly known for correcting myopia (nearsightedness) and hyperopia (farsightedness) in a process medically known as refractive surgery. LASIK might be the most well known of the refractive surgery methods; it’s not a brand name, but an acronym for laser-assisted in situ keratomileuses. The process is complex but simple to describe: a flap is cut open in the cornea and a laser reshapes the tissue underneath, improving vision almost instantly. This process is not for everyone; it’s important to talk to your optometrist and make sure you’re a good candidate before getting LASIK or any other ocular surgery.

Lasers are good for more than just refractive surgery; they can also treat glaucoma quite effectively. Since glaucoma is almost always caused by an excess of aqueous fluid in the eye causing elevating pressure on the optic nerve, in narrow-angle glaucoma a hole can be made to allow fluid to flow more easily. In open-angle glaucoma, the laser creates a biological and chemical change to the tissue, allowing the drainage system to work more effectively.

Cataract surgery is done when the lens of your eye becomes cloudy and must be replaced by an artificial lens. This surgery is now sometimes laser-assisted, making it more accurate and effective. In about 20% of cases, the artificial lens that replaced the cloudy lens will itself become clouded. A laser can then be used to create an opening in the artificial lens, reducing haziness and restoring vision to full capacity.

Lasers can also be used to burn away eyelashes! This may seem like a bad idea, and for most patients, it’s absolutely unnecessary, but some folks have eyelashes which persistently move towards their eyes, which can create irritation and health problems. This condition, known as trichiasis, is easily solved by using lasers on the affected eyelashes.

Who knew lasers could do so much? From getting rid of pesky eyelashes to transforming flesh to be more effective at draining eye fluids, lasers are used in a wide variety of different optic surgeries. For many of these problems, there might not be symptoms you can notice right away; fortunately, with a regular eye exam, your optometrist will be able to spot any issues you might have. As for my childhood dream of getting lasers installed into your eyes; well, with all of the medical advances we’ve been making, maybe that will come soon enough.