The pandemic changed a lot, but a rise in LASIK eye surgery was an unforeseen development.
For many of those who may have been considering the surgery, the frustration of foggy glasses caused by mask-wearing was the final straw.
“The trick is to twist the strings on the side of the mask, but it started to hurt my ears. After wearing it all day it’s unbearable,” Stephanie Almonte, a Corona resident, said on how she prevented her glasses from fogging up during the work day.
Almonte had considered the surgery once before, but had always been intimidated by the process. A year of living and working under the mandatory mask mandate, however, changed her mind.
She was mostly influenced by her sisters, Ashley and Kelsey, both of whom have significantly worse eyesight than she does. The two sisters also work as teachers, and struggled to maintain clear eyeglasses during lessons each day.
The fogginess caused from mask-wearing is not only frustrating, but can actually lead to dry eye. The phenomenon is so common it’s referred to as MADE, or mask-associated dry eye.
The three women, along with their aunt Rosemary, opted for the treatment after deciding surgery recovery would be more bearable than consistently struggling with their glasses.
“It was life changing,” Almonte said, adding that she can now put her new driver’s license to the test without fear of her nearsightedness affecting navigation. Her decision to start driving was also influenced by the pandemic; she was no longer comfortable taking public transportation.
The Almonte family are not alone. The American Refractive Surgery Council reported an uptick in LASIK procedures — 16.3 percent year-over-year — in the last quarter of 2020.
Dello Russo Laser Vision, where the Almonte family went for their surgeries, reported a 25 percent uptick across its multiple locations during the pandemic.
Though many of the patients report frustration with masks, Dr. Joseph Dello Russo said he’s treated a significant number of contact-wearers who were confronted with a newfound fear — picking up bacteria on their hands and transferring it to their eyes as they adjust their contact lenses.
“There’s a general germ awareness,” Dello Russo explained.
His practice was shut down for several weeks last April, when Gov. Cuomo mandated the suspension of elective surgeries. When Dello Russo reopened, he was met with an influx of first responders who were in contact with Covid each day. The surgery was another step in protecting themselves against a virus that very little was known about, he said.
In addition to the health aspect of the surgery, Dello Russo said it might provide some patients with a sense of control in a time when everyone feels like they have so little of it. In a time when patients have little say over how the outside world is operating and how a pandemic is affecting their lives, the surgery presents them with an opportunity to at least put their eyesight into their own hands.
“It’s something people can take control of in an uncontrolled environment,” he said.