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5 LASIK Alternatives You Probably Haven't Heard About

By Meagan Drillinger
Medically Reviewed by John F. Doane, MD, and member of the Refractive Surgery Council editorial advisory board, FACS on December 21, 2020
While LASIK can be effective for eliminating the need for glasses or contact lenses, not everyone is eligible for the procedure.

Anyone who knows the daily routine of waking up to a blurry world has heard of the power of LASIK. LASIK, which stands for laser in-situ keratomileusis, is a type of surgery that uses lasers to treat vision problems that are caused by refractive errors (meaning your eye does not bend light properly).

While LASIK can be effective in eliminating the need for glasses or contact lenses, not everyone is eligible for the procedure. Still, there are a variety of alternatives to LASIK surgery available to people who may not qualify, as well as for those who may want to try something different.

Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK)

Similar to LASIK, photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is used to reshape the cornea of your eye. With PRK your eye surgeon removes the top layer of the cornea, which is known as the epithelium. The exact same laser is used with PRK and LASIK.  The difference is what layer of the cornea the laser is affecting. Lasers are used to reshape the layer underneath the epithelium to adjust the curvature. PRK is a great alternative to LASIK for people who have thin corneas. The main difference between the two procedures is healing time: the eyes take about a month to heal from PRK surgery, while LASIK recovery is just a few days.

Unlike LASIK, PRK does not require cutting a flap in the cornea. But similar to LASIK, not everyone is eligible for PRK.

You may be ineligible for PRK if:

  • You have chronic allergies that affect your eyelids
  • You have a serious condition that affects the eye
  • You have an autoimmune condition that can affect your ability to heal

LASEK

If you have thin or flat corneas, LASEK is one of the best alternatives to LASIK. LASEK (laser epithelial keratomileusis) is a version of PRK. It is used to treat astigmatism, nearsightedness, or farsightedness. During the procedure the epithelium is detached, moistened with a diluted alcohol solution, and folded back. A laser then reshapes the cornea and the flap is repositioned with a contact lens in place to help the healing.

SMILE

SMILE, or small incision lenticule extraction, treats both nearsightedness and astigmatism. Using a femtosecond laser, a small incision is created in the cornea. Through this incision, the laser creates a thin disc within the layers of the cornea, which is removed to adjust the curvature of the cornea to improve the eye’s focusing ability. The recovery is very quick and there is little to no pain.  

Phakic Intraocular Lenses

Phakik Intraocular Lenses (IOLs) is a great alternative to LASIK for people who have high degrees of refractive errors. You may know Phakic IOLs by their other name - implantable contact lenses or ICLs. Phakic IOLs are surgically placed implants inside the eye, either just in front or just behind the iris, which allows you to retain your natural ability to focus with your natural lens that remains in the eye. The lenses are made of synthetic material and can be removed years later for cataract surgery as one ages.

Refractive Lens Exchange

Refractive Lens Exchange Surgery is another alternative in which one’s natural lens is removed and replaced with an intraocular lens implant that is more suited to give the best unaided vision. The procedure is similar to cataract surgery. The lenses provide the ability to focus at both near and far distances. It's a good alternative for patients who have severe farsightedness, nearsightedness, astigmatism, or presbyopia (the inability to focus on close-up objects that occur after age 40). RLE has a high success rate in both older and younger patients, as well.

Reviewed with the help of the Refractive Surgery Council.