PRK Cost

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What is Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK)? 

Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is an elective procedure. Ophthalmologists may recommend PRK surgery for individuals who have vision issues caused by refractive errors. The doctor 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

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 not even need eyeglasses or contact lenses at all. 

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 first step in the PRK procedure is to consult your doctor. They will explain the procedure and give you instructions to prepare for your laser vision correction. Here is a general outline of what to expect after your initial consultation:

Before the Surgery

During your preoperative appointment, your eye doctor will measure your refractive error and pupils with a vision test. They will then use a machine to map your cornea. This information will be used to program the excimer laser during your procedure.

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. 

Your doctor will give you further instructions to prepare for surgery. They may ask you to stop using contact lenses and antihistamines for several days before the surgery.

Some doctors may prescribe antibiotic and steroid eyedrops for you to start using before surgery. You will use these for several days after surgery as well. They may also prescribe eye drops for dry eye symptoms.

It's recommended that you begin cleaning the area around your eyes thoroughly about three days before surgery. Do this by:

  • Placing a warm compress or towel over your eyes for 5 minutes
  • Run your finger along your eyelash lines from inside to outside (nose to ear) two or three times for upper and lower lash lines
  • Wash your eyelids with a hypoallergenic soap or baby shampoo.

Repeat this procedure twice a day. This will help to unclog out the oil glands around your eyes and remove debris around the eyelid margins.

Day of Surgery

You should expect to be at the doctor's office for a few hours. Wear comfortable clothing and eat a light meal beforehand. Take any usual prescriptions unless your doctor instructed you not to.

Don't wear makeup or any accessories that could interfere with your doctor's ability to position your head. (For example: earrings, scarves, hair clips).

You won't be able to drive after PRK, so make sure to prearrange transportation from the clinic. Ask your doctor if you should bring eye drops or any other medication with you.

Surgical Procedure

The procedure only takes about 5 to 10 minutes per eye. This surgery doesn't require sedation or general anesthesia.

  • First, the surgeon will give you a local anesthetic to numb each eye.
  • Then they will place an eyelid holder on each eye to keep them open.
  • An alcohol solution, laser, or surgical tool will then remove the outer lay of your cornea (epithelium).
  • Then the excimer laser that is programmed with your measurements begins removing and reshaping the tissue of your cornea.
  • Once the procedure is finished, the surgeon will put clean bandage contact lenses in your eyes to protect your cornea.

PRK surgery is not painful because local anesthetic is used. However, you may experience some discomfort in the hours after surgery once the anesthetic eye drops wear off.

Recovery Time

Here's what to expect after surgery:

  • You'll take your pre-arranged transportation home.
  • You should take several days off of work for recovery.
  • Your eyes may be extra sensitive to light. Your doctor will probably provide you with a pair of extra dark shades to wear for the day.
  • Do not plan to look at a screen or work on your computer for the rest of the day.
  • You may experience fatigue after surgery. Plan on relaxing or taking a nap afterwards.
  • Don't expect to drive for at least 2 or 3 days after surgery, possibly longer.
  • Use all of your eyedrops exactly as prescribed. You will likely have a prescription for antibiotics to prevent infection and steroid drops for inflammation. These will typically last a month.
  • If you experience significant discomfort or pain, contact your doctor. They will likely recommend a painkiller.
  • Attend all follow-up appointments. If any unusual vision change or pain occurs, contact your surgeon immediately.

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 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 

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.  

Success rates for PRK are high. Almost 90 percent of individuals who underwent photorefractive keratectomy experienced 20/20 vision within a year of surgery without additional eyewear support

How Much Does PRK Surgery Cost?

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. 

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

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.

Resources
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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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