Fogged glasses drive demand for laser eye surgery during pandemic

Tom Eighmey had to do something when he found he couldn’t go to work without his glasses fogging up.

“I noticed it almost the moment I walked into school,” said Eighmey, who teaches math and coaches football and lacrosse at St. John’s Prep in Danvers. “It was like an immediate fog.”

Eighmey has tried tightening his masks, adding metal bands to hold them securely to his nose and even spraying chemicals on the lenses to reduce condensation. Nothing worked. So Eighmey tried another increasingly popular solution: laser surgery.

The American Board of Refractive Surgery estimated at nearly 834,000 people received laser vision correction in 2021, the highest number since he started counting procedures in 2015.

One of the procedures is LASIK, in which doctors remove tissue from the cornea to help people with astigmatism and nearsightedness.

Dr. Samir Melki works on a LASIK patient at his clinic in Brookline. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

This renewed interest means it’s boom time at Boston Vision at Brookline. Dr. Samir Melki said his activity had increased by 30% compared to pre-pandemic levels. And one of the main reasons is fogged up glasses.

Melki also noted that many people have more money to spend on eye surgery, as they have had to cut spending in many other areas during the pandemic.

“People don’t travel as much, so they have disposable income that they can spend on procedures,” Melki said. He noted that many patients also thought it was a good time for the procedure, as they were already working from home, where it might be easier to recover.

But laser surgery is not for everyone.

Clinical technician Alexi Melki prepares a patient for laser eye surgery.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Clinical technician Alexi Melki prepares a patient for laser eye surgery. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Some worry about the risk, even though the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that complications from LASIK are rare and 95% of patients are “satisfied with their outcome after LASIK surgery.”

Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a spokesman for the academy, also pointed out that surgery is not guaranteed to eliminate the need for glasses forever. He said it’s because eyes change with age, which can dampen the positive effects of laser correction.

And there are easier ways to deal with fogged lenses.

As an eye surgeon, Steinemann has had to deal with glasses and a mask throughout his career. Instead of corrective surgery, he found another trick: sticking the mask on the bridge of his nose to prevent air from fogging up in his glasses.

Steinemann also tells patients to keep their glasses scratch-free and to clean them daily with a microfiber cloth and water. “Never dry,” he warned.

And some people just love the look of the glasses, like Danvers-based barista Sean Painter. The profession of painter does not oblige him to speak as much as a professor of mathematics. But it regularly copes with steaming cappuccinos and lattes.

Painter said he was considering LASIK, but decided it wasn’t worth it.

“I haven’t had enough trouble with my glasses to really engage in this stuff,” he said. “And I also generally like the way I look in the glasses.”

A patient undergoing LASIK corrective eye surgery at Boston Vision.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A patient undergoing LASIK corrective eye surgery at Boston Vision. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

And then, says Painter, there’s the fact that LASIK costs north of $5,000 in the US.

But some people have the money and say they think the surgery is worth it.

Eighmey, who teaches mathematics at Danvers, had raised money for the down payment on a new house. But he struggled to find a place because of the hot market. So he went ahead and spent some of his savings on LASIK.

And he said he couldn’t be happier with his decision. Before the operation, he couldn’t even see his TV clearly from the living room sofa without his glasses. Afterwards, he suddenly could see details like the numbers on a neighbor’s house.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was just amazing. I won’t forget that moment.”

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