Is LASIK Eye Surgery Safe for People Who Have Diabetes?

An insulin syringe and stethoscope lying on table

Diabetes is a common metabolic disease, and its incidence is increasing with the increase in global obesity. Because of this reason, the number of patients with diabetes who need laser vision correction is also increasing.

The guidelines of the US FDA regarding diabetes label it as a relative contraindication for the following reasons:

  • Unstable and fluctuating power of glasses, due to fluctuating blood sugar levels (remember your power of glasses should be stable for a year before surgery).
  • Decreased immunity.
  • Delayed or poor healing.
  • Potentially increased the risk of operative and post-operative complications and infections.

With increasing data on the safety and effectiveness of LASIK eye surgery in patients with diabetes, these recommendations have been modified in clinical practice. Now, there is sufficient evidence to say that LASIK is safe and efficacious consistently in diabetic patients with good blood sugar control and no systemic or ocular complications.

It is recommended that special attention needs to be given to certain factors, in addition to the standard LASIK pre-operative evaluation, when performing LASIK in patients with diabetes, which would be discussed with the patient by the operating surgeon.

Good Blood Sugar Control

Normal blood sugar levels for a few days before surgery are not sufficient for LASIK, and your doctor will want to check your blood glucose levels over at least two to three months. It is best evaluated using a test called glycosylated hemoglobin or HbA1c levels. The risks involved in undergoing the LASIK surgery are more than the potential benefits if the patient’s HbA1c result is more than seven. Even though recommendations allow for LASIK with HBA1c levels less than nine, most eye surgeons will insist on levels around or less than seven. Your eye surgeon may also want a letter of clearance from your treating diabetologist stating that the diabetes is under control and being monitored.

Systemic Complications of Diabetes

Patients with evidence of systemic complications of diabetes, such as peripheral neuropathy or nephropathy, should not be considered as suitable candidates for LASIK.

Eye-related complications of Diabetes

Patients with diabetic retinopathy, which is a diabetic eye disease that affects the light-sensitive portion of the eye called the retina, are usually not considered suitable for LASIK. Patients with mild diabetic retinopathy may be considered for the surgery, but LASIK is contraindicated in more severe forms of the disease. Similarly, LASIK is not recommended in patients with maculopathy, ischemia, cataracts or glaucoma.

Stability of Refractive Power of the Eye

In case the power of your glasses is fluctuating, because of fluctuating blood sugars or otherwise, your eye doctor will ask you to wait until it has been stable for at least six months to a year. If your blood sugar isn’t controlled over the long term, the varying blood sugar levels can result in a change in the prescription of glasses. Because of this, your eye doctor will not be able to ensure optimal long-term results with LASIK.

That said, you must know that people with diabetes are routinely undergoing LASIK, all over the world. Also, in the hands of a trained and well-experienced surgeon, the surgery remains safe and effective. It must, however, be kept in mind that you must be very particular about your diabetic medication, diet, and exercise to ensure a proper blood sugar control.

Once your blood sugar is adequately controlled, your eye surgeon will work with you on a thorough and detailed analysis of the potential risks and consequent benefits of LASIK.

Diabetes is no longer considered a contraindication for LASIK, and neither is it true that people with diabetes will invariably have complications after undergoing a LASIK eye surgery. In fact, if you have no diabetic retinopathy and your blood sugars are well controlled, you will probably be eligible for refractive surgery. The only way for you to know if you are suitable for LASIK is by undergoing a complete eye evaluation with a competent eye surgeon. If your blood sugar levels are kept consistently under control through medication and sustained lifestyle changes, LASIK is as safe for diabetics, as for the general population.