Updated on 

May 24, 2022

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PRK Surgery - Procedure, Aftercare, Risks & Cost

What is PRK?

PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved laser eye surgery for correcting the following conditions:

  • Myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Hyperopia (farsightedness)
  • Astigmatism (irregularly shaped cornea)
  • Presbyopia (age-related farsightedness)

PRK involves reshaping the cornea, the clear front part of your eyes. Together with the eye lens, the cornea helps focus light on the retina. 

An abnormally shaped cornea can affect your ability to see. Reshaping it through the PRK procedure can restore proper vision. According to studies, PRK has a 95 percent overall success rate, with 70 percent of people achieving 20/20 vision or better.1

diagram showing four steps in photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) surgery

PRK Surgery vs. LASIK 

Both PRK and LASIK surgery have similar outcomes of 20/40 vision or better. Although both involve reshaping the cornea, their procedures and the recovery timelines differ.2

PRK involves the removal of the corneal epithelium (outer surface of the cornea) to expose the inner tissues for laser treatment. An eye surgeon uses an excimer laser to reshape the cornea to better focus light on the retina. This improves vision. 

LASIK involves an eye surgeon creating a corneal flap to allow for laser treatment. A flap is a small piece of cornea cut out. It leaves a hinge, and is folded back to allow for laser treatment.

Outcome studies show that PRK has a longer initial recovery process (5 days to a month) compared to LASIK (within 24 hours).3  PRK is also associated with some pain and discomfort, whereas LASIK is considered painless. 

Who is a Candidate for PRK Surgery?

You'll qualify for PRK if you:

  • Are 18 years or older
  • Have good health
  • Have healthy eyes
  • Have a refractive error (myopia, hyperopia, or astigmatism)
  • Are not pregnant or nursing
  • Have a stable eye prescription lasting at least a year
  • Have a thin cornea, making you a poor LASIK candidate 
  • Want to achieve better vision and eliminate dependence on contacts or eyeglasses
  • Understand the risks and benefits of the procedure 
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Can follow post-surgery care instructions

Thinking about LASIK? Start a conversation with an experienced Patient Counselor to find out if laser eye surgery is right for you. Learn More

PRK Procedure: What to Expect

Once your doctor determines your suitability for PRK surgery, they’ll schedule your procedure. Like any other surgery, preparation is important. 

Preparation

Your doctor will give you pre-op instructions to ensure you're well prepared.

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, they’ll advise you to keep them off days or weeks before surgery to allow your eyes to stabilize.4 They’ll also discourage facial makeup, especially on the day of surgery. 

Your surgeon may prescribe anti-inflammatory and antibiotic eye drops such as Zymaxid days before the surgery. These will keep your eyes free from infection and prevent irritation.5

Prepare reliable transportation, as your driving ability may be impaired after surgery.

On the surgery day, your doctor will perform a final evaluation to ensure your eyes are ready for surgery. They’ll also take measurements of your cornea to guide the procedure.

Procedure Steps

During PRK vision correction surgery, you will sit on a reclining chair, and the surgeon will clean and prepare your eyes. Then, they’ll administer a numbing agent to prevent pain and discomfort and sedatives to help you relax.

After preparing your eyes, your surgeon will use a special blade, a speculum (eyelid holder), and an alcohol solution to cut out the thin surface layer of the cornea (corneal epithelium).6

This process exposes the underlying corneal tissues for laser treatment by using an FDA-approved excimer laser device.7

After laser treatment, they’ll administer anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and steroid drops to prevent inflammation or infection.

Finally, they’ll place a clear contact bandage on the cornea’s surface to protect the wound as it heals. You’ll also receive post-op care instructions to follow for successful recovery.

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

Aftercare

After surgery, you may feel some pain and discomfort. You can relieve these using prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications. 

Your ophthalmologist will also provide antibiotic eye drops, lubricating eye drops, and other ointments to apply to the healing eye as necessary. You’ll also need to do the following:

  • Wear protective sunglasses to avoid excessive sun exposure
  • Take medications as prescribed
  • Avoid strenuous activities involving the eyes (such as excessive reading or watching TV)
  • Stop contact sports such as football until your doctor advises otherwise
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes
  • Avoid contact with dirty water from pools, rivers, etc.

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.

PRK Surgery Side Effects and Risks

Studies show that PRK is a safe, efficient, and stable procedure.8 However, like any surgical procedure, there are side effects and risks, including:

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

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

Questions about LASIK? Call NVISION to speak with an experienced Patient Counselor who can answer all your questions and set up a free consultation. No commitment required.

LASIK Surgeon Using Laser

PRK Surgery Recovery Time 

The initial recovery for PRK may take about a week to a month with vision improving day by day. It may take 3 to 6 months to fully recover. 

How Much is PRK Surgery?

PRK generally costs between $2,000 to $5,000 for both eyes. The cost may vary by location, available facilities, and your surgeon’s experience. 

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

NVISION Eye Centers offer custom LASIK, affordable pricing plans, and a lifetime guarantee. Learn More

Summary

PRK or photorefractive keratectomy is an FDA-approved laser eye surgery for correcting nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. It involves reshaping the cornea by using laser technology to achieve better vision.

PRK is considered a great LASIK alternative because it doesn’t require a thick cornea for flap creation. The ideal candidate must be at least 18 years or older, have good general health, and have a refractive error they desire to correct.

PRK is generally safe and effective with a success rate of 95 percent.

Still not sure about LASIK? Talk with an experienced Patient Counselor at NVISION to find out if it's right for you.

Surgeon performing LASIK Procedure
8 Cited Research Articles
  1. Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK) Eye Surgery,”  Cleveland Clinic, 07 Jun. 2021
  2. You've Heard Of Lasik, But What About Prk?”  University of Utah, 23 Oct. 2012
  3. Laurence E., “LASIK vs. PRK: Which Laser Eye Surgery Is Right For You?,” Forbes Health, 28 Feb. 2022.
  4. What should I expect before, during, and after surgery?,” United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) 11 Jul. 2018.
  5. Zymaxid- gatifloxacin solution/ drops: Drug Label Information,” U.S. National Library Of Medicine, 01 Sep. 2016
  6. Somani S. et al., “Photorefractive Keratectomy,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 02 Nov. 2021.
  7. Wainne J., “Discovery of excimer laser surgery laid foundation for PRK, LASIK,” Healio, 01 Apr. 2022
  8. Hossein Mohammad-Rabei et al., “Long-term evaluation of complications and results of photorefractive keratectomy in myopia: an 8-year follow-up,”  National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009 April.
Melody Huang is an optometrist and freelance health writer. Through her writing, Dr. Huang enjoys educating patients on how to lead healthier and happier lives. She also has an interest in Eastern medicine practices and learning about integrative medicine. When she’s not working, Dr. Huang loves reviewing new skin care products, trying interesting food recipes, or hanging with her adopted cats.
Vincent Ayaga is a medical researcher and experienced content writer with a bachelor's degree in Medical Microbiology. His areas of special interest include disease investigation, prevention, and control strategies. Vincent's mission is to create awareness of visual problems and evidence-based solutions shaping the world of ophthalmology. He believes that ophthalmic education offered through research has a greater impact among knowledge seekers.
https://www.visioncenter.org/author/vince/
Author: Vince Ayaga  | UPDATED May 24, 2022
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Medical reviewer: Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.

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