Can Patients with HIV get LASIK?

Some HIV patients can still get LASIK

While LASIK eye surgery has a high success rate and is considered very safe as compared to other eye surgeries, it is still not for everyone. There are many people, who should not undergo LASIK, including:

  • Those with chronic dry eyes
  • Those with too thin corneas
  • Those with changing refractions and significant refraction error (very poor vision)

Therefore, patients considering LASIK surgery must understand the risks and potential complications, as well as the typical results of a successful procedure. Likewise, many believe that people with diseases that affect the immune system (e.g., HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and lupus) may have trouble with corneal healing after surgery. The good news, however, is that even if you are HIV-positive and in good health, you may still be a good candidate for LASIK.

What is meant by being HIV positive?
HIV is an abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus. A positive HIV test result means that you are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Being infected with HIV does not mean that you have AIDS right now. However, if left untreated, HIV infection damages a person's immune system and can progress to AIDS.

What is AIDS?
Simply speaking, AIDS is the most serious stage of HIV infection which is caused due to the destruction of the infected person's immune system. Your immune system is your body's defense system. Cells of your immune system fight off infection and other diseases. If your immune system does not work well, you are at risk of serious and life-threatening infections and cancers. HIV attacks and destroys the disease-fighting cells of the immune system, leaving the body with a weakened defense against infections and cancer.

How being HIV positive can affect your LASIK surgery outcome?
HIV-positive patients are usually at higher risk of during and after-surgical complications such as bleeding (blood loss), high chances of wound infection, impaired wound healing and sometimes, even death. Therefore, while it is justifiable to withhold surgery under certain circumstances, it does not mean that all HIV positive patients ca not undergo LASIK surgery. Some experts (not all) also believe that a person with an autoimmune disorder who undergoes LASIK is at risk for corneal thinning, corneal melts, corneal ulcers and irregular healing, as well as scleritis, episcleritis, keratitis, inflammation in the eye and severe "dry eye syndrome". In reality, however, all of such risks are also present in those who are not HIV positive.

Success stories of HIV positive patients with LASIK
On the other hand, there have been several cases in which a number of patients with autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and a smattering of other diseases) who were successfully treated with LASIK and developed no significant side or adverse effects even after months of treatment. In fact, none of these patients developed corneal thinning or melting. For the same reason, a number of surgeons are also of opinion that it is acceptable to do LASIK if they carefully select the patients and they are well informed about the risks.

Last but not least, based on the above discussion, it can be confidently concluded that an HIV positive person on effective treatment (undetectable virus levels) poses little or no additional risk of developing more severe or rare complications of LASIK such as corneal ulcers, delayed would healing, late recovery, corneal thinning or dry eyes. Therefore, for most routine eye procedures including LASIK, if standard precautions are followed the risk is also low even for untreated HIV+ patients who are in fairly good health overall. Therefore, LASIK surgery in HIV positive patients would be considered a low risk procedure, provided the patient is well-informed of the details and the general risk and if it is carried out by professional, highly qualified eye surgeon and under ideal hygienic and sterile conditions.

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