If your eye doctor recommended PRK surgery, you’ll likely want to know what to expect during recovery.
While everyone’s recovery journey differs, most people complete the healing process within 2 to 4 weeks after PRK surgery. However, the vision correction benefits may progress for 6 months to a year.
This article covers the PRK recovery timeline, including tips for proper healing and what to expect from the PRK recovery process.
PRK Recovery Timeline: What to Expect
PRK recovery time takes longer than that of LASIK and other types of laser eye surgery. This is because PRK is a more invasive laser vision correction procedure.
During PRK surgery, the eye surgeon completely removes the cornea’s outer layer (epithelium). A new corneal epithelium grows back during the healing process. Most people experience blurred vision while the outer layer of corneal tissue grows back.
Here’s what to expect during each stage of the PRK recovery timeline:
Days 1 to 2
The first day after PRK surgery will likely involve minor discomfort that should go away by the second day. You can take medicated eye drops and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to relieve pain and promote healing.
Report any pain that persists beyond the second day. Persistent eye pain may signal potential complications. Your eye surgeon will address the cause of pain during your first follow-up appointment.
Days 2 to 4
After the second day, you may still feel minor discomfort, which is usually not cause for concern.
You will wear a bandage contact lens over your cornea after PRK surgery. Don’t remove it, even if your vision improves. Leave that job to your eye surgeon on your next visit.
During days 2 to 4, you may experience the following side effects:
- Excessive tearing
- Light sensitivity
- A burning sensation
- Blurry vision (corneal haze)
- Dry eyes
- Halos and glares around bright lights
- Feeling like something is in your eye
Call your eye doctor if you notice:
- Dislodged contact lens
Avoid activities that may cause water, dust, or debris to get into your eyes. These can cause serious complications.
Days 5 to 7
You will notice an improvement in vision when your eye doctor removes the bandage contact lens. However, the extent of clear vision will depend on the severity of your previous refractive error.
Weeks 1 to 4
By the end of the first week, you should be healed enough to resume your routine. You may experience side effects, such as:
- Night vision issues
If you notice any severe side effects, call your doctor.
Avoid makeup, facial creams, and similar products that can cause irritation or introduce bacteria into your healing eye. Also, avoid contact sports or activities that may expose you to trauma.
Weeks 4 to 12
By the end of the first month, your vision should significantly improve with minimal to no side effects. Continue to take your prescription eye drops, as prescribed, to prevent corneal haze, a common side effect that appears several weeks after surgery.
Corneal haze can reduce your visual acuity. If the haze persists, irregular astigmatism may result.
Months 3 to 6
Your vision will be fully improved at this point in the recovery process. Most people who undergo PRK have clear vision within 6 months.
Months 6 to 12
You will notice the full benefits of surgery 6 months to 1 year after surgery. You’ll be able to get rid of your eyeglasses and contact lenses because your vision will be clear. However, this is not the time to neglect your eyes.
You’ll need to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays from the sun. You should also wear eye protection around dust, smoke, and other irritants.
After a year of PRK recovery time, you may still need to protect your eyes from harmful rays from the sun and bright lights that may cause eye strain.
Remain in contact with your eye surgeon for close monitoring and professional advice. Let your ophthalmologist know if you experience any vision problems.
7 PRK Recovery Tips to Help the Healing Process
Here are some tips to promote the healing process and ensure a successful recovery:
- Ask for help. A family member or trusted friend can help you with essential tasks such as driving, cooking, caring for pets, and anything else that could damage your healing eyes.
- Get enough rest. Your eyes will have time to heal when you rest. Take off from work and avoid strenuous activities for at least a few days.
- Wear an eyeshield. An eyeshield will protect your eyes from dust, debris, or accidental rubbing, especially during sleep.
- Apply your eye drops as prescribed. Follow your doctor’s medication directions, and don’t miss any doses.
- Wear sunglasses. Choose sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays that can damage your eyes.
- Use artificial tears. Sometimes you may experience dry eyes. Use lubricating eye drops (artificial tears) to ease discomfort and avoid irritation.
- Attend follow-up visits with your surgeon. Even if you don’t experience any side effects, scheduling frequent visits with your surgeon for close monitoring is still good.
What Not to Do After PRK Surgery
After PRK surgery, avoid:
- Rubbing your eyes. This can irritate them or cause infection.
- Contact with pool water and hot tubs. They may contain infection-causing bacteria.
- Eye makeup. Such as mascara and eyeliner.
- Contact sports. Such as football, rugby, and basketball.
- Strenuous activities. Such as heavy lifting that may strain your eyes.
- Smokey and dusty environments. These will trigger eye irritation.
- Sun exposure. Wear sunglasses when you go outside.
What Is Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK)?
Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is an FDA-approved refractive surgery. It’s used for correcting refractive errors, such as:
- Myopia (nearsightedness). This is blurry distance vision, even if close objects appear sharp.
- Hyperopia (farsightedness). Distant objects are clear, but near vision is blurred.
- Astigmatism (irregularly shaped cornea). Irregular curvature of the eye causes blurred vision, near and far.
PRK improves how light focuses on the retina by reshaping the cornea. The cornea is the clear front part of the eye that refracts (bends light). The retina is the light-sensitive part of the eye that receives images and sends them to the brain for interpretation.
PRK vs. LASIK
PRK, like LASIK, is a permanent solution to refractive errors. Both procedures have similar outcomes, but LASIK has a faster recovery timeline.
PRK is an excellent alternative to LASIK surgery. PRK surgery is ideal for people who have thinner corneas and don’t qualify for LASIK.
PRK Procedure Overview
PRK is a quick outpatient procedure, meaning you’ll be able to go home after surgery. You can expect the following before, during, and after the surgery.
Before the surgery, your doctor will conduct eye examinations to determine the extent of your refractive error, pupil size, corneal thickness, and your eye’s general health.
If you’re eligible for PRK, your surgeon will schedule you for the surgery and provide preparation instructions. They will instruct you to stop wearing contact lenses at least one week before surgery.
Tell your surgeon about any medication(s) you’re taking. Remember to organize reliable transportation on the day of surgery, as you can’t drive home.
The PRK procedure takes about 15 to 20 minutes for both eyes. Here’s what happens:
- During surgery, you will sit on a reclining chair, and your surgeon will prepare your eyes by administering numbing eye drops.
- Your surgeon will use an eyelid holder to keep your eyelids open during surgery.
- With a blade, laser, and alcohol solution, your surgeon will remove the epithelium (outer layer of the cornea) and expose the inner tissues.
- They will use an excimer laser device to reshape your cornea.
- After laser treatment, your surgeon will administer anti-inflammatory eye drops, antibiotic drops, and steroid drops to prevent swelling, infection, and irritation.
- Lastly, they’ll place a clear bandage contact lens on your cornea to protect the open wound and allow the epithelium to grow back.
After the procedure, your surgeon will provide you with post-operative care instructions. They will also prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatory eye drops, and pain relievers to ease discomfort and prevent infection.
Book a follow-up appointment 24 to 48 hours after surgery so your surgeon can monitor the healing process.
What is the Success Rate of PRK?
About 90% of people undergoing PRK surgery achieve 20/40 vision without wearing glasses or contact lenses.7
PRK surgery cannot correct presbyopia (age-related farsightedness). Even if your visual acuity improves after PRK, you may still need to wear reading glasses after age 40.
Common Questions About PRK Recovery
How long does it take to heal after PRK?
Most people heal within 2 to 4 weeks after PRK surgery. However, the exact healing timeline differs for everyone.
Can I drive three days after PRK?
You should wait to drive until your vision is clear. For many people, this occurs between 3 and 5 days after PRK.
How long does it take to see 20/20 after PRK?
Most people who undergo PRK achieve their clearest vision between 3 and 6 months after the procedure. About 9 out of 10 PRK patients achieve 20/40 vision or better without glasses or contact lenses.
PRK recovery time varies from person to person, but most people have clear vision about a week after surgery. Your clearest vision can take a month or longer to achieve as healing progresses.
The recovery period for PRK surgery is longer than other laser vision correction procedures, such as LASIK. This is because the PRK procedure is more intrusive than LASIK surgery.
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