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What is Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK)? 

Ophthalmologists may recommend photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) for individuals who have vision issues caused by refractive errors. An elective procedure, photorefractive keratectomy uses a laser to mold the cornea’s shape so that the eye can bend (refract) light correctly.  

This type of refractive surgery is comparable to LASIK surgery. During photorefractive keratectomy, the surgeon uses an excimer laser to reshape the cornea’s surface. There is no creation of a corneal flap, which is a step in LASIK surgery.

prk vs lasik

Additionally, individuals who have nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and astigmatism (imperfect curvature of the cornea or lens) could benefit from this eye surgery. With photorefractive keratectomy, individuals may not need eyeglasses or contact lenses as much as before surgery. In the best of cases, individuals may even do without such eyewear because of how successful the surgical procedure went. 

If individuals are considering vision correction surgery, then they should expect the following:

  • Medical history evaluation
  • Multiple tests. Ophthalmologists will assess each eye, collecting maps of the corneal shape and measuring refractive errors. 
  • PRK procedure. The eye surgeon will administer a local anesthetic to treat each eye. First, the surgeon removes epithelium (the surface layer of cornea) with a solution, laser, or surgical tools. Then, the excimer laser is applied to the cornea underneath. A transparent contact lens will be placed on the eye before surgery finishes to minimize irritation during the recovery process. 

Individuals who wear rigid gas permeable contact lenses should discontinue use for at least three weeks before the screening visit. Individuals should stop using all other kinds of contact lenses at least three days before the assessment. 


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Side Effects of PRK Surgery

Individuals who undergo PRK surgery may experience a little discomfort within the first few days of surgery. The majority of surgical patients will report having sensitivity to light. However, other side effects can occur, such as:

  • Blurry vision that requires additional correction with glasses, contacts, or a touch-up procedure
  • Glare or halos around images
  • Corneal haze (cloudy appearance in the cornea)
  • Slower surface healing process
  • Mild corneal irregularity
  • Dry eyes 

Additionally, more often in PRK than in LASIK, regression (partial decrease in treatment efficacy) may be more likely in cases in which correction for higher degrees of farsightedness and astigmatism occurs. In these scenarios, it is best to consult the eye specialist for further guidance on eligibility.  

Finally, to minimize the possibility of laser surgery side effects, PRK may be more suitable for individuals with thin corneas or with a corneal surface irregularity. PRK does not disrupt as much corneal tissue as LASIK does which means it may be safer for these individuals.  

Almost 90% of individuals who underwent photorefractive keratectomy experienced 20/20 vision within a year of surgery and without additional eyewear support. 

How Much Does PRK Surgery Cost?

PRK surgery will vary in prices depending on multiple factors, including:

  • The type of laser used
  • The eye surgeon’s expertise and experience
  • Special discounts, financing, or payment plans 
  • The individual’s vision and other relevant or existing eye or medical condition
  • Facility fees, visits before and after surgery, or medications
  • Location of the eye clinic 
  • Screening eye exam

On average, individuals can expect to spend between $1,750 and $5,000 for PRK surgery. For example, at UCLA’s Laser Refractive Center, price estimates for PRK surgery total 

$2,500 per eye. 

Does Insurance Cover PRK Surgery?

Photorefractive keratectomy is not considered a necessary medical procedure. This means that most insurance companies will not provide full coverage of the elective procedure. 

However, it is best to speak with the insurer to see if a fraction of the screening examination or other expenses can be covered.  

Other Ways to Pay for PRK Surgery

If individuals interested in this vision correction procedure cannot pay the full amount upfront, other options are available, including:

  • Monthly payments. Individuals can speak to their ophthalmology clinic to set up a pricing plan that breaks down the total cost over a limited number of months. 
  • Financing. For those individuals with a good credit score, financing can be a suitable choice. However, in these cases, the loan request may include fixed interests. 
  • Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account. Individuals may be able to use pre-tax money deposited in such accounts to pay for a significant portion, if not all, of the PRK surgery. 
  • Health insurance. Some plans may differ in coverage and be able to pay a portion of the costs.

PRK vs. LASIK Eye Surgery Cost

Both laser eye surgery will share similar costs. PRK surgery may cost a bit more than the LASIK procedure due to more post-op follow-up care visits within the first month. 

In the United States, the average price of LASIK was approximately $4,500 for both eyes. However, it is important to mention that insurance coverage may offer a 40 to 50% discount on traditional LASIK surgery. 

Yet, price is only one point to consider in vision correction. Individuals should consult their eye doctor about all options and, if possible, the procedure that provides the most benefits to their eye health.

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Author: Anthony Armenta | UPDATED January 20, 2021
Medical reviewer: Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
Resources

Boyd, Kierstan. “What Is Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK)?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 16 July 2018, www.aao.org/eye-health/treatments/photorefractive-keratectomy-prk.

“Cost of Services.” Cost of Services - UCLA Laser Refractive Center - Los Angeles, CA, www.uclahealth.org/lrc/cost-of-services.

“Photorefractive Eye Surgery (PRK): Laser Eye Surgery.” Cleveland Clinic, www.my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/8596-photorefractive-keratectomy-prk-eye-surgery.

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