LASIK surgery, or laser eye surgery, is a procedure that aims to improve vision. Nearsighted or farsighted individuals, as well as those with astigmatism, can undergo LASIK surgery as an alternative to wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses. Not everyone is an ideal candidate for LASIK surgery, however.
According to The Vision Council, over 195 million people in the United States have undergone some form of vision correction.
This article will look at what LASIK surgery is and why it is necessary. It will also look at recovery times and aftercare.
LASIK surgery is a procedure that corrects imperfections, or refractive errors, in the eyes’ ability to focus. It stands for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis.
During the LASIK procedure, a surgeon will use a laser to reshape the cornea. The cornea is the clear, dome shaped window that focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye to form an image.
If the light going through the tear film, lens, and cornea is not focused correctly on the retina, a person will experience blurry vision.
By reshaping the cornea, LASIK surgery changes how the eye focuses, thereby improving vision.
Surgeons perform LASIK surgery to correct refractive or focusing errors. Following the procedure, most people can see clearly without glasses or contact lenses.
LASIK surgery may be an option for someone with one of the following vision problems:
If someone is nearsighted, or shortsighted, they can see closer objects more clearly than distant objects. This is also known as myopia.
The National Eye Institute (NEI) note that nearsightedness occurs because the eyeball is long in relation to the cornea. Light focuses in front of, rather than on, the retina, causing blurry distance vision.
With farsightedness, or hyperopia, someone can see distant objects more clearly, but nearby items appear blurry.
This happens because the eyeball is shorter, or the cornea is flatter, than usual. Light focuses behind, rather than on, the retina, causing blurry near vision.
If the cornea curves or flattens unevenly, it cannot focus light evenly at any distance. Someone can have nearsightedness or farsightedness as well as astigmatism.
When someone has one or more of these vision problems, they can use corrective eyewear or opt for LASIK surgery.
Who cannot undergo LASIK surgery?
The NEI note that for LASIK surgery to work correctly, a person’s vision needs to be stable. This means that their eyeglass or contact lens prescription has stayed the same over a period of time.
LASIK surgery is not suitable for some people. To determine whether or not the procedure is suitable for them, a person will need to undergo a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
Some conditions that affect the eye may increase the chance of experiencing complications, including:
People should have an in depth discussion with their eye doctor to confirm that LASIK surgery is a good option for them.
They will find out what to expect during the procedure and recovery process and can ask any questions they have.
How to prepare for LASIK surgery
There are several ways that people can prepare for the LASIK procedure.
Wearing contact lenses changes the shape of the cornea and affects the results. Therefore, people should switch to wearing glasses before the surgery.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), people should stop wearing contact lenses for the following periods of time before the surgery:
- Soft contact lenses: They should stop wearing them for 2 weeks.
- Toric soft lenses or rigid gas permeable lenses: They should stop wearing them for at least 3 weeks.
- Hard lenses: They should stop wearing them for at least 4 weeks before the initial evaluation.
People should also:
- Wear appropriate clothes: Avoid wearing clothes that produce lint, as the fibers may irritate the eyes.
- Arrange for transport: People should not drive immediately after LASIK surgery, so they must use alternative transportation to get home.
- Avoid makeup or lotions: The eyes and face must be clean and free from contaminants.
During the procedure
LASIK surgery is a short procedure that takes under 30 minutes.
Beforehand, the person will undergo a thorough evaluation of the eyes to check for any infection, inflammation, or abnormal eye pressure. The surgeon will then take comprehensive measurements of the eye and cornea.
The NEI note that although the person will be awake during the surgery, they may receive medication to relax them if they feel nervous.
The person will then lie back in a reclining chair, and the surgeon will place numbing drops into the eyes. They will use an instrument to hold the eyelids open.
A soft corneal suction ring will hold the eye in place, and this may cause a person’s vision to dim. The eye surgeon will then use a tiny blade to cut a hinged flap at the front of the cornea. With the flap folded back, the surgeon will use a laser to remove precise amounts of tissue and remodel the cornea.
The laser uses a system to follow the eye’s position and redirect the laser’s pulses, as necessary. The surgeon will then carefully reposition the flap back into place over the cornea. Natural adhesion keeps the flap in place without the need for stitches.
The FDA note that, immediately after the procedure, a person can expect their eye to itch, burn, or feel as though there is something in it. They may also experience mild pain or discomfort.
However, people should avoid rubbing their eye, as this could cause damage and require further surgery.
People may also experience:
- light sensitivity
- bloodshot eyes
These symptoms will usually disappear within a few days.
Immediately after the procedure, the person must rest in a darkened room and use dark glasses to protect their eyes.
The eye doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory eye drops that the person must use for 5–14 days. They should also use preservative-free artificial tears to moisturize the eyes.
Some people may need to use protective goggles to protect the eyes while asleep and to help with dry eyes.
The FDA note that although people will be able to see after the surgery, it can take 3–6 months for the eye to heal fully.
People must wait around 3 days after the surgery to begin noncontact sports and at least 4 weeks for strenuous contact sports. They should also avoid swimming for 1–2 months.
Because it is essential to avoid infection, the doctor may advise waiting 2 weeks following surgery before using any cosmetic products around the eyes.
It is important for a person to visit a doctor during the first 2 days following LASIK surgery to check their vision and recovery.
If someone experiences vision loss, severe pain, redness, or discharge from the eye, they should immediately contact a doctor.
The cost of LASIK surgery will differ according to the person’s location, the surgeon, and the equipment and techniques they use. The American Refractive Surgery Council state that, on average, LASIK surgery costs around $4,200.
People should note that health insurance plans typically do not cover LASIK surgery, as it is an elective procedure.
LASIK is a safe and effective way to correct vision. The FDA first approved LASIK surgery in 1998.
More recently, the FDA collected data from over 700 people who had undergone LASIK surgery. More than 95% of the participants were satisfied with their vision following the procedure, and fewer than 1% experienced substantial visual difficulties afterward.
As with all surgical procedures, LASIK surgery carries some risk of complications. The most common ones include:
- Dry eyes: Following LASIK surgery, the eyes produce fewer tears, which can affect vision. This may last for around 6–12 months. However, using lubricating eye drops can help with dry eyes.
- Visual changes: Around 20% of people will report visual changes, such as halo, glare, or star-bursting patterns. This can improve within a few days or last for 3–6 months.
- Diffuse lamellar keratitis: People may experience a sensation that they have something in their eye, as well as blurry vision. This will typically resolve after 1 week with corticosteroid treatment.
- Corneal flap complications: This can affect 0.1% to 4% of people.
Rare complications that affect fewer than 0.1% of people who undergo LASIK surgery include:
- ischemic optic neuropathy, which occurs when the blood does not flow to the optic nerve, thereby causing vision loss
- retinal detachment
- vitreous hemorrhage, which is when bleeding occurs in the back of the eye
- posterior vitreous detachment, which can cause a person to see dots and lines, or floaters
- infectious keratitis
During LASIK surgery, a surgeon uses a laser to correct refractive vision errors. During the short procedure, they will reshape the cornea and improves the eye’s focus.
This treatment option is not suitable for everyone. However, for some people, undergoing LASIK surgery could mean a life without glasses or contact lenses.
There are some risks and complications associated with the procedure, and a person should discuss these with a doctor beforehand to ensure that this surgery is right for them.