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Annoying foggy glasses contribute to an increase in corrective eye surgery

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Many know this struggle - foggy glasses because of an ill-fitting face mask, and that's part of the reason laser corrective surgery is up so much in recent months. From member station WBUR in Boston, Simon Rios reports.

SIMON RIOS, BYLINE: Tom Eighmey teaches math at a prep school near Boston. After his work-from-home period ended in the fall, fogged up glasses in class became a constant nuisance.

TOM EIGHMEY: Between the air coming from the mask and the cold glasses and all that stuff, not only did I fog up when I walked in the building, but then any time I would talk to people for almost the first hour of the day, it was, like, immediate fogginess.

RIOS: Eighmey's first instinct was to find a way for the mask and glasses to coexist. He tried several methods, but none of them worked. So Eighmey pulled the trigger and got Lasik, one of several laser corrective procedures available as an alternative to glasses or contact lenses. With Lasik, doctors remove tissue from the cornea to address conditions like nearsightedness or astigmatism. Eighmey says he couldn't be happier with his decision.

EIGHMEY: I was a person who couldn't see a TV without it being fuzzy from, like, 6 feet away. And literally the next morning, I woke up, could see across the street and see, like, the small number 19 on the house next door. It was just unbelievable. I will not forget that moment.

RIOS: The American Refractive Surgery Council is the trade group that represents Lasik practitioners. The group reports a nearly 20% increase in laser correction procedures from 2019 to 2021. That means it's boom time at Boston Vision.

SAMIR MELKI: You're going to feel some pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK.

MELKI: Your vision may dim for about 30, 40 seconds. That's all expected.

RIOS: Dr. Samir Melki prepares his patient, then fires up the laser. Melki says business is up 30% compared to pre-pandemic levels, and foggy glasses are a key reason. Melki also cites people having more time and more money.

MELKI: People are not traveling as much, so they have disposable income that they can spend on procedures such as laser vision correction. Two - recovery time. These patients think that maybe now is a good time to do it because you are recovering at home.

RIOS: But laser surgery isn't for everyone. Thomas Steinemann is an ophthalmologist in Cincinnati and spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He says while the level of risk is acceptable, Lasik might not be forever. Your eyes will continue to change.

THOMAS STEINEMANN: It may not be one and done. I mean, there are some people that require a little touch up or enhancement, and there are even examples of people who lose the effect over time.

RIOS: And pro tip from Steinemann - he says during eye surgery, he tapes his mask to his nose to prevent foggy lenses. And some people just dig the glasses look. Count among them Sean Painter (ph), a barista in Danvers, Mass. As a cappuccino maker, he doesn't have a lot of long conversations with customers, but as we spoke, his glasses almost entirely fogged over. Painter has considered Lasik, but decided against it.

SEAN PAINTER: It's the kind of thing where I haven't, like, had, like, enough sort of, like, hassle with my glasses to really, like, commit to that kind of thing. And, like, I also generally like the way I look in glasses.

RIOS: And, Painter says, there's the fact that Lasik can cost north of $5,000, and it's not covered by most insurance plans. For NPR News, I'm Simon Rios in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MITIS' "PARTING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.