LASIK eye surgery is a popular option for people who want clear vision while reducing or eliminating the need for glasses or contact lenses.
However, there are many things to consider before getting any type of laser eye surgery. This article covers what you should know about laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK). It includes what to expect before, during, and after laser surgery, as well as the pros and cons.
Talking to your doctor about LASIK or any other laser refractive surgery is essential.
What Is LASIK Eye Surgery?
LASIK stands for laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis. It’s a type of refractive eye surgery that involves using a laser beam to correct vision problems caused by refractive errors.
The refractive errors this surgery can treat include:
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Hyperopia (farsightedness)
- Astigmatism (an imperfection in the corneal curvature)
- Presbyopia (age-related farsightedness)
In order to have clear vision, light must pass through the cornea (clear dome in front of the eye) and lens. The cornea and lens bend (refract) light rays to focus on the retina.
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. It converts light rays into electrical signals for the brain to interpret as images.
Refractive errors cause light rays to focus improperly on the retina, causing blurry vision.
Ideal Candidates for LASIK Surgery
Not everyone is a candidate for laser eye surgery. Your doctor will ensure you meet specific requirements before recommending LASIK as a vision correction option.
A perfect candidate for LASIK:
- Is 18 years or older, since many surgeons recommend the mid-20s as the ideal age for eye stability3
- Has healthy eyes
- Has a refractive error (myopia, hyperopia, or astigmatism)
- Has a stable vision prescription (at least 1-2 years) to reduce the chances of regression
- Has ideal corneal thickness (this reduces the chances of corneal ectasia)
- Wants to reduce or eliminate dependence on glasses or contact lenses
- Has realistic expectations
Who Is Not A Good Candidate for LASIK?
Reasons that may disqualify a patient from LASIK include:
- Pregnancy or nursing
- A thin cornea
- Underlying health issues such as immunodeficiency or autoimmune diseases
- Presence of cataracts (cloudy eye lens)
- Previous eye injury or surgery
- Taking certain medications, such as immunosuppressants and anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) that can affect the healing process
How Does LASIK Work?
LASIK surgery involves reshaping the corneal tissue using a laser device. This corrects the way light focuses on the retina.1
Some of the tools used in LASIK surgery include:2
- Femtosecond laser. Creates a corneal flap and exposes tissues below
- Excimer laser. Alters the underlying corneal tissue based on your surgeon’s measurements
Types of LASIK Surgery
Over the years, the LASIK procedure has seen improvements. These improvements helped promote procedure safety protocols, minimize pain, and maintain a high success rate.
The types of LASIK include:
Traditional LASIK surgery uses a handheld blade called a microkeratome to create a flap. Afterward, the doctor uses an excimer laser to reshape the corneal tissue.
The handheld blade carries an elevated risk of flap wrinkles and other corneal flap complications. However, the overall rate of complications is still very low.
Read more about Blade vs. Bladeless LASIK.
Blade-free LASIK uses a device known as a femtosecond laser to create the flap and an excimer laser to reshape the cornea. It’s considered safer than conventional LASIK because it uses laser beams instead of a hand-held sharp blade.
Your eye surgeon may recommend a custom LASIK procedure for greater precision and personalization. However, custom LASIK will cost more than traditional LASIK.
There are different types of custom LASIK, all of which use advanced technology. These include:
- Topography-guided LASIK (Contura® Vision)
- Wavefront-guided LASIK
- Wavefront-optimized LASIK
What to Expect at Your Laser Eye Surgery Consultation
If you’re interested in laser vision correction, the first step is to schedule a consultation with a qualified LASIK surgeon. Most LASIK institutes offer free consultations to discuss the LASIK process and determine if you are a good candidate for the procedure.
A typical laser eye surgery consultation lasts 2 to 3 hours. During this time, the surgeon assesses your eye health to determine your suitability for LASIK. If you qualify, the surgeon uses these measurements to set up the laser for your surgery.
Here’s what you can expect at a LASIK consultation:
- Medical history review. First, your eye doctor will go over your medical history. Certain eye and general health conditions may disqualify you from LASIK.
- Comprehensive eye exam. The next step is a comprehensive eye exam to analyze your refractive error, dominant eye, the health of your eye’s interior, front, and surface, eyelid health, and tear film.
- Corneal mapping. A corneal topography will map the shape and thickness of your cornea in extreme detail. If your cornea is thick enough, your surgeon will use this data to program the laser for your surgery.
- Discussion of the procedure. Once your exams are finished, the surgeon will discuss the entire process with you. They will instruct you on how to prepare, including when to stop wearing contact lenses and if you should stop taking certain medications. They should also discuss costs and payment options.
- Time for questions and concerns. Following this discussion, there will be a time for questions. Here, you can clarify any confusion about preparation, the day of surgery, recovery, or costs.
If you don’t qualify for LASIK surgery, your surgeon may recommend another type of refractive surgery to correct your vision.
LASIK Procedure (Step-by-Step)
The entire LASIK surgical procedure lasts 30 minutes or less for both eyes. Doctors need approximately 10 minutes to complete the surgery on each eye.
You are awake and alert during the procedure. Surgeons often offer a mild sedative to help you relax before laser surgery.
Here’s what to expect during LASIK laser eye surgery:
- Step 1. First, your eye doctor places eye drops that contain a numbing agent in your eyes. Your eyelids are held open with a tool so the eye surgeon can work.
- Step 2. The eye surgeon uses a small blade or special laser to cut a thin flap in your cornea.
- Step 3. The excimer laser gently reshapes your cornea. It’s guided by a computer that has a map of your eye preloaded into it.
- Step 4. After the excimer laser finishes, the surgeon smooths the corneal flap back into place.
- Step 5. If you’re getting both eyes operated on, this process will immediately be repeated on the other eye.
- Step 6. Once finished, your eye surgeon or a team member will provide you with an eye shield and detailed recovery instructions.
After surgery, your doctor will provide you with post-op care instructions.6 You must prioritize the following:
- Rest your eyes. First, you must give your eyes plenty of rest to promote healing. Most surgeons will recommend a few hours of sleep to help you avoid some initial pain and discomfort.
- Wear your eye shield. Keep your eye shield in place to avoid unconscious touching or accidental trauma.
- Take time off work. Take a few days off, especially if you work in a role that requires intense eye use, such as typing or reading on a computer screen.
- Manage discomfort. You may experience some mild pain or discomfort in the eyes. You can address these using antibiotic eye drops and ointments provided by your doctor.
What to Avoid After Laser Eye Surgery
Avoid the following during recovery:
- Rubbing your eyes
- Swimming and hot tubs (for about a week)
- High-impact activities and contact sports
- Eye-straining activities such as excessive reading
Continuous monitoring of the healing process is very important. You should make your first follow-up appointment at least 24 hours after surgery and plan regular visits.
Does LASIK Hurt?
LASIK causes little to no pain during the procedure. Your surgeon will administer local anesthetic eye drops to numb your eyes before the LASIK eye surgery begins.
Some people experience discomfort when the suction ring is placed on the eye just before cutting the corneal flap. Many people report feeling “a sensation of pressure” during this part of the surgery. However, in most cases, patients feel no pain throughout the procedure.
LASIK Risks and Side Effects
Like other eye procedures, LASIK has side effects and risks.
Side Effects of LASIK
The side effects of LASIK include:
- Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Blurred vision
- Gritty or burning sensation
- Bloodshot eyes
Potential Risks of LASIK
Some risks of undergoing the procedure include:
- Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
- Overcorrection or undercorrection
- Decentration (when the laser centers incorrectly during surgery)
- Wrinkled flap
- Epithelial ingrowth
- Corneal ectasia (rare)
- Temporary vision loss
- Decreased visual clarity immediately after surgery
- Vision loss or serious changes (rare)
- Flap healing problems
Following your doctor’s post-treatment instructions can help prevent these risks and side effects.
LASIK Success Rates
LASIK is one of the most effective refractive surgeries available. According to the American Refractive Surgery Council, LASIK patients show a 96% satisfaction rate.7
Statistics also show that:
- About 99% of LASIK patients achieve 20/40 vision or better
- About 90% achieve 20/20 vision
- Less than 1% of patients may lose two lines of best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA)
Surgeons can address dissatisfactory LASIK outcomes through a second laser treatment (LASIK enhancement). LASIK enhancement is easy and quick since it only involves re-lifting the initial flap for further correction.8
Cost of LASIK
LASIK surgery will cost an average of $2,200 per eye. The extent of correction may also affect LASIK cost.
LASIK surgery is an elective procedure, and many insurance providers may not cover it. The cost may vary depending on your location, available facilities, and surgeon’s experience.
Pros and Cons of LASIK Eye Surgery
Below are the benefits and downsides of LASIK:
Pros of LASIK
- Quick and long-lasting outcomes
- Results in 20/40 vision or better
- A relatively safe and painless procedure
- Reduces or eliminates dependence on glasses or contact lenses
- Enhancements are available to improve vision
- No need for bandages after surgery
- Low risk of dry eyes
- Customizable for every patient
Cons of LASIK
- Not everyone is eligible (18 years or older only)
- Risk of flap complications
- Not covered by insurance
- Risk of over or undercorrection, especially with bladed LASIK
- Risk of regression
Other Types of Refractive Surgery
Although LASIK surgery may not work for everyone, there are equally effective LASIK alternatives you can discuss with your doctor.
Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK)
Unlike LASIK, PRK doesn’t create a flap in the cornea. During PRK, the surgeon removes the corneal epithelium (thin outer layer of the cornea). This allows for corneal reshaping using an excimer laser.
PRK is ideal for people with thin corneas because they lack enough corneal tissue for flap creation.
Epithelial Laser In-Situ Keratomileusis (Epi-LASIK)
Epi-LASIK involves the formation of a thin epithelial flap instead of a corneal flap. This procedure is less invasive than traditional LASIK surgery.
Laser Epithelial Keratomileusis (LASEK)
LASEK also involves the epithelium, making it a great alternative for LASIK. It’s a minimally invasive procedure, just like PRK.
However, unlike PRK, LASEK preserves the epithelium flap using diluted alcohol. The epithelial flap is repositioned after laser treatment.
Small Incision Lenticule Extraction (SMILE)
SMILE eye surgery doesn’t require a corneal or epithelial flap. Instead, a femtosecond laser targets the cornea’s inner layer.
The laser creates a lenticule, a thin, disc-shaped piece of tissue. The lenticule is then removed via a small incision on the side of your cornea to reshape it. Research shows that LASIK and SMILE yield comparable results.
Intraocular Lenses (IOLs)
Intraocular lens implants (IOLs) are artificial lenses inserted into the eye to replace the natural lens. They’re common during cataract surgery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is LASIK permanent?
LASIK eye surgery provides permanent correction for blurry vision due to certain refractive errors. However, some people may still need to wear glasses or contact lenses after having laser eye surgery. This is especially true for reading glasses.
How long does it take to recover from LASIK laser eye surgery?
Most people who get LASIK can see clearly within 24 hours of surgery. Other people need to rest their eyes for a few days after the procedure. The full recovery period typically lasts 3 to 6 months, during which your vision should gradually improve.
How successful is LASIK surgery?
LASIK eye surgery is one of the most successful procedures available. About 99% of people who undergo LASIK achieve 20/40 vision or better without wearing glasses or contact lenses. About 96% of people who get LASIK are satisfied with the results.
- LASIK is a popular vision correction procedure that involves reshaping the cornea with a laser.
- It involves various steps, including a consultation with a professional to determine your eligibility for the treatment.
- While it’s one of the most successful and safe eye surgeries, LASIK isn’t suitable for everyone.
- Remember to discuss potential risks with your eye doctor before the procedure.
In this article