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LASIK refers to Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis, a type of refractive surgery. The LASIK procedure helps correct vision problems, like astigmatism, by altering the cornea (a transparent tissue on the front of the eye). Laser eye surgery may also address other vision conditions, such as farsightedness, nearsightedness, or presbyopia.
As the name suggests, LASIK requires the use of a computer-controlled excimer laser (a laser device).
In general, LASIK eye surgery should not take longer than 30 minutes. However, the time may vary if an ophthalmologist must operate on both eyes in one session.
In all other cases, when an ophthalmologist performs LASIK on one eye, the patient undergoing surgery can expect the following to occur.
The individual will lie back in a reclining chair and receive an anesthetic (numbing) eye drop. This liquid solution helps prepare the eye for an incision into the cornea with a mechanical microkeratome (a blade tool) or femtosecond laser (bladeless LASIK).
There may be some pressure and discomfort at this point in the surgery, and vision will become blurry temporarily. The energy emitted from the laser helps form tiny, expanding bubbles of gas and water to dislodge the tissue beneath the cornea surface. This separates the outer layers of tissue into the corneal flap, by which the eye surgeon peels back for the next step of surgery.
When the eye is in the proper position, the laser will send pulses to the eye to vaporize corneal tissue. During this phase of the surgery, some individuals have reported a “burning hair” smell. The ophthalmologist uses the laser to reshape the tissue based on the measurements gathered during the pre-surgical assessment. After this step, the eye surgeon will return the flap to its original position and place a protective eye shield over the eye.
LASIK recovery time will not be the same for every person who undergoes LASIK surgery.
In general, vision may not begin to stabilize until after three months. In some cases, eye vision may not fully stabilize until six months have passed. However, most people see quite well as soon as the next day.
Immediately after surgery, individuals may note some discomfort or mild pain. A pain reliever may be prescribed. Other symptoms that can arise after LASIK are:
These symptoms tend to subside during the first week, though. If they do not, it is recommended to request a follow-up visit to the eye clinic and consult the eye doctor. Re-operation may be necessary if eye measurements do not change for two subsequent visits held at least three months apart.
Additionally, recovery time may lengthen if an eye infection occurs. Certain cosmetic products, such as creams, eye makeup, and lotions, can increase infection risk. The eye doctor will recommend avoiding such products before the day of surgery. Residue and debris caught in the eyelashes may also heighten the risk.
Other factors, such as contact sports and hot tubs, can increase the risk of infection or lengthen the healing process time.
Overall, a visit to the eye doctor within the next day of the surgical procedure and at consistent intervals will ensure a healthy, controlled recovery.
As mentioned before, post-op eye vision may not reach stabilization until 3 to 6 months later. Within a few days of surgery, though, individuals may report vision enhancement.
In other cases, like re-operation, distance vision may improve shortly afterward. However, other visual symptoms, like glare and halos, may persist.
It is also important to consider that only some individuals will have 20/20 vision after LASIK and not need eyeglasses or contacts.
Other individuals with refractive errors may have to wear eyewear of some sort to achieve optimal vision. This may include reading glasses, for example.
For individuals with substantial refractive errors, the results of this vision correction procedure may not be good enough. For this reason, it is important to discuss expectations with an ophthalmologist to see if this type of surgical procedure is the best option.
Farsighted individuals may notice that results decline with age. This can happen if the manifest refraction (a vision examination before dilating drops) differs significantly from the cycloplegic refraction (a vision examination after dilating drops).
Wearing contact lenses before LASIK surgery can have detrimental effects. The cornea must return to its natural shape before surgery. If it does not, the ophthalmologist may take inaccurate measurements that influence the surgical plan and lead to undesirable postoperative results like poor vision. The surgeon will advise you on how long to stop wearing contacts before surgery.
If you are interested in undergoing LASIK surgery, visit the nearest eye clinic to discuss all the procedure’s risks and benefits. Even though LASIK is FDA-approved, the surgical procedure is recent, and more data on long-term efficacy is needed.
With the proper eye exam and comprehensive consultation, you and your eye care doctor can determine if this is the right procedure to improve your eye health.
“What Are the Risks and How Can I Find the Right Doctor for Me?” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA - Center for Devices and Radiological Health, www.fda.gov/medical-devices/lasik/what-are-risks-and-how-can-i-find-right-doctor-me.
“What Should I Expect before, during, and after Surgery?” U.S. Food and Drug Administration , FDA - Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, www.fda.gov/medical-devices/lasik/what-should-i-expect-during-and-after-surgery.