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Dry Eyes After LASIK: Is It Normal and How Long Will It Last?

By WebMD Connect to Care Staff
Reviewed by Blake Williamson, MD, and member of the Refractive Surgery Council editorial advisory board on December 23, 2020
Dry eyes after LASIK is common. Learn how to manage this part of the recovery process.

LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) is a vision correction surgery that treats nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, about 90% of LASIK patients report clear vision without glasses or contacts. But is it normal to have dry eye symptoms afterward, and if so, how long does it last? 

Despite its quick results, there is a recovery process for LASIK, and this can include dry eye or ocular dryness. “The vast majority of people see recovery within 24 to 48 hours,” Amir Moarefi, MD, a refractive and cataract surgeon in Long Beach, CA tells WebMD Connect to Care. “It can take up to a week depending on the amount of refractive error you have,” Moarefi says.

Dry Eyes After Lasik: Everything You Need To Know

According to a 2018 study published in ARVO Journal, dry eye affects approximately 50% of patients one week after LASIK, 40% one month after, and 20% to 40% six months after surgery. “When you’re doing LASIK surgery you’re basically making a small incision, which cuts the corneal nerves, and it can cause a transient ocular dryness,” Moarefi says.

Corneal nerves and tear glands work together, and LASIK can disrupt that relationship, leading to dryer eyes, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The new shape of your cornea can also alter the way your eyelids touch your eye, which also affects tear glands. Post-surgical inflammation can further dry out your eyes. Inflammation is the body’s response to a threat, and in the short run, it can be a natural part of the healing process.

Following your LASIK surgery, the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests treatments such as artificial tears/ointments, warm compresses, and environmental modification. If your dry eyes are really bothersome, your doctor might prescribe other medications. “The vast majority of people don’t need anything other than artificial tears,” Moarefi says.

Many people have dry eye symptoms before having LASIK, typically related to years of contact lens wear and other environmental factors. If you already have dry eye syndrome and you’re considering undergoing LASIK, you might not qualify for the surgery. Dry eyes should be treated before considering the surgery. There are many treatments offered today that can pre-treat dry eyes and help get you ready for LASIK.  You might have had dry eyes for years from contact lens use and other factors, so it is good to get diagnosed properly.
 

“If somebody is prone to ocular dryness, that can compound the issue and make it worse,” Moarefi says. “You have to go to an ocular surgeon who understands how to pick a good candidate for LASIK.”

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