Updated on  February 20, 2024
5 min read

PRK vs. LASIK: What’s the Difference?

10 sources cited
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  • Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) and laser-assisted in situ keratomileuses (LASIK) are surgical procedures for treating myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism.
  • They’re based on the same principle, but the procedures and recovery times differ significantly.
  • LASIK involves the creation of a corneal flap before laser treatment, whereas PRK only removes the thin layer of the cornea.
  • PRK is a great alternative for LASIK in people with a thin cornea. Although PRK has a longer recovery time than LASIK, both are considered safe and effective at correcting refractive errors.

What is the Difference Between PRK and LASIK?

PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) and LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) are surgical treatments for:

Both procedures achieve the goal of 20/40 vision or better. PRK and LASIK’s main difference is in how they’re performed and their recovery timelines.

Deciding between the two is difficult without expert advice. An eye doctor can evaluate your eye health to determine if you’re a candidate.

Corrective eye surgery

Who is a Candidate for Each Procedure?

You might qualify for PRK if you:

  • Are 18 years or older
  • Have good general health
  • Are not pregnant or nursing
  • Have healthy eyes
  • Have a refractive error (myopia, hyperopia, or astigmatism)
  • Have had a stable prescription for at least a year
  • Don’t qualify for LASIK
  • Want to achieve better vision
  • Want to eliminate dependence on contacts or eyeglasses
  • Understand the risks and benefits of the procedure
  • Have realistic expectations

You’ll qualify for LASIK surgery if you:

  • Are 18 years or older
  • Have healthy eyes
  • Have a refractive error (myopia, hyperopia, or astigmatism)
  • Have had a stable prescription for at least a year
  • Have a thick cornea 
  • Are not pregnant or nursing
  • Want to achieve better vision
  • Understand the procedure
  • Have realistic expectations

Talk to your eye doctor about any medications, previous surgeries, or underlying medical conditions that may interfere with the surgery and healing process.

PRK vs LASIK: Which is More Effective?

Both PRK and LASIK are considered safe and effective refractive surgeries. Modern technologies, such as wavefront, have made the procedures safer and more accurate.8

According to outcome studies, over 90% of PRK and LASIK clients experience a notable improvement in their vision quality (20/40 vision or better). 

About 70% of PRK and  90% of LASIK clients achieve 20/20 vision.9 The outcomes are permanent.

Pros and Cons of LASIK 

These are the advantages of LASIK surgery:

  • Quick recovery time
  • Safe and effective
  • No stitches required
  • High success rate
  • Few follow-up visits required

These are the disadvantages of LASIK surgery:

  • Higher risk of dry eyes
  • Risk of poor night vision
  • Risk of flap complications
  • Unsuitable for people prone to eye injuries

Pros and Cons of PRK

These are the advantages of PRK surgery:

  • Suitable for people with thin corneas
  • Less risk of removing excess corneal tissue
  • No need for flap creation
  • More affordable than LASIK
  • Low risk of dry eyes
  • High success rate

Here are the disadvantages of PRK surgery:

  • Longer recovery time
  • Higher risk of infection
  • Risk of Blurry vision
  • Mild to moderate pain and discomfort for weeks
  • Risk of light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Requires bandage contact lens

What Happens During LASIK Surgery?

LASIK surgery can take 30 minutes or less for both eyes. Here is what happens during the procedure:

  1. The surgeon will administer a numbing agent to prevent pain and discomfort. They will also provide sedatives to help you relax during the procedure. If you have eye allergies, your surgeon will administer an anti-allergic agent.
  2. The surgeon will create a flap by incising the surface of your cornea. Bladeless LASIK surgeries (iLASIK) use a computer-guided laser to map your eye before creating the incision.
  3. Once the flap is created, the surgeon will fold it back to expose the deeper corneal tissue layers.
  4. The surgeon will then use an excimer laser to reshape your cornea. This allows light to focus well on the retina.
  5. The flap is repositioned, and the surgeon will give you eye shields to protect the incision while it heals.

What Happens During PRK Surgery?

Unlike LASIK, PRK does not involve flap creation. Here is what to expect during the procedure:

  1. The surgeon will use a speculum (eyelid holder), and an alcohol solution to cut out a thin top layer of the cornea
  2. Once the underlying corneal tissue is exposed, the surgeon will use an excimer laser to reshape the cornea
  3. The surgeon will administer anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and steroid drops to prevent inflammation and infection
  4. They will place a clear contact bandage on the cornea’s surface to protect the wound as it heals.

PRK surgery takes about 15 to 20 minutes for both eyes.

Recovery Period

According to research, LASIK has a quicker recovery process than PRK. It is also associated with less pain and discomfort. 

The initial recovery time after PRK surgery is about 1 week to a month. On the other hand, LASIK patients show significant vision improvement within 24 hours after surgery.

After a LASIK or PRK procedure, the doctor will prescribe pain medications, antibiotics, and lubricating eye drops to ease pain and discomfort during recovery.

They will also provide detailed post-op care instructions. Attend your first follow-up appointment at least 24 hours after surgery to closely monitor the healing process. Regular follow-up visits are recommended to ensure a successful recovery.

Side Effects and Risks

The following are side effects and risks of LASIK surgery:

The following are side effects and risks of PRK surgery:

  • Mild pain or discomfort
  • Halos and starbursts, especially at night
  • Hazy vision (corneal haze)
  • Possible overcorrection/undercorrection
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Worsening vision (normal during the first phase of healing)

Contact your doctor if you experience sudden vision changes, severe pain, or bleeding.

How Much Do LASIK and PRK Cost?

Both PRK and LASIK generally cost between $1,000 and $3,000 per eye. The prices can vary due to several factors, including:

  • Location
  • Pre-op and post-op care facilities
  • Surgeon’s experience

PRK is easier and requires fewer resources to perform. This makes it a bit cheaper compared to LASIK. 

Talk to your doctor for accurate pricing information. Some surgeons may offer financing options. Your health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) may also cover some of the costs.

Updated on  February 20, 2024
10 sources cited
Updated on  February 20, 2024
  1. Corneal Modifications,” The American Optometric Association (AOA)
  2. LASIK Candidate,” Harvard Medical School.
  3. What should I expect before, during, and after surgery?,” United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) 11 Jul. 2018.
  4. Abelson M., “The Best Corneal Surface for LASIK,” Review of Ophthalmology, 22 Jan. 2004.
  5. Aristeidou  A. et al., “The evolution of corneal and refractive surgery with the femtosecond laser,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 14 Jul. 2015
  6. Somani S. et al., “Photorefractive Keratectomy,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 02 Nov. 2021.
  7. LASIK eye surgery,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 29 Sep. 2021.
  8. Steinert R., “Understanding Wavefront Technology,”  American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 11 Nov. 2013.
  9. What Is the LASIK Success Rate?,” Refractive Surgery Council (RSC), 23 Oct. 2021.
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