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LASIK Eye Surgery: How It Works

Reviewed by Kerry D. Solomon, MD, and member of the Refractive Surgery Council editorial advisory board on December 10, 2020
LASIK Eye Surgery - Here's what you need to know before, during, and after LASIK, including questions to ask your doctor, what happens during the procedure, common side effects, and recovery time.

Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is a common type of laser eye surgery used to treat vision problems, including nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. During this procedure, a laser reshapes the cornea, the transparent tissue that covers the eye and helps focus light.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), more than 90 percent of people who undergo LASIK achieve between 20/20 and 20/40 vision. While many people experience better vision for years to decades after surgery, you may still need glasses for reading and night driving, and your vision may still worsen over time.

Before LASIK Surgery

Talk to your ophthalmologist about whether LASIK is right for you, discuss the potential risks, establish realistic expectations, and consider the cost.

During LASIK Surgery

LASIK surgery is typically performed in an ophthalmologist’s office or outpatient facility.

  • Your surgeon will numb the eye with anesthetic drops.
  • An eyelid holder is placed between the eyelids to keep them open. A suction ring is then placed over the eye to prevent movement—you will feel pressure on the eye, and your vision will go dim or black.
  • Your surgeon will use a laser or microkeratome blade to cut a thin flap in the cornea and fold it back.
  • A laser is placed over the eye, and you’ll be asked to stare at a pinpoint of light. The laser will then reshape the cornea based on your eye measurements.
  • Your surgeon will replace the flap over your cornea, where it will self-heal. A transparent cover may be placed over the treated eye to prevent rubbing or scratching.

After LASIK Surgery

Recovery time from LASIK varies. While some people notice improved vision within days, it may take three to six months for vision to stabilize.

  • Ask a friend or family member to drive you home after the procedure and rest.
  • Follow your doctor’s aftercare instructions, including how long to wait before returning to normal activities like driving and exercise.
  • Don't rub your eye or use irritating products—if you are unsure whether an activity is ok, ask your doctor for guidance.
  • Your doctor will give you eye drops to help prevent infection and relieve dryness.
  • Common side effects include pain, dryness, poor low-light vision, light sensitivity, and blurry vision. Severe complications, such as vision loss or infection, are rare. Seek medical treatment if you develop new, unusual, or worsening symptoms. Learn more about the risks of LASIK surgery from the FDA.
  • Schedule follow-up appointments as instructed.