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LASIK vs. PRK: Which Is Right For You?

By Michael LoRe
Medically Reviewed by Kerry D. Solomon, MD, and member of the Refractive Surgery Council editorial advisory board on December 10, 2020
Factors including your available recovery time and budget should be considered when deciding whether you should get LASIK or PRK.

While LASIK is a popular eye surgery due to its effectiveness and minimal recovery time post-op, there are other options available to you that will yield similar results.

Approximately 700,000 people annually call on LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) to correct a variety of issues including nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. During this procedure, a surgeon uses a laser to reshape the cornea (outer layer of the eyeball) by first creating a thin flap to reveal the inner layer of the cornea where the laser is applied.

PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) is another eye surgery to reshape the cornea. The outer layer of cells covering the cornea, known as the epithelium, is removed, before the laser is applied to the surface of the cornea. The epithelium grows back during the healing process.

While both procedures are utilized to treat similar eye-related issues, it's important to understand which is right for you. Consult your doctor for the best course of action. During the evaluation process, your doctor may ask you some of the following questions to determine whether you should have LASIK, PRK or another procedure (like LASEK or epi-LASIK).

How is your vision?

Patients with a higher corrective prescription (like an -8.00 or -9.00) may be better suited for PRK if they do not have enough corneal tissue for both the flap and the laser vision correction treatment. Those patients with high prescriptions and enough corneal thickness can consider LASIK.

How much recovery time do you have?

Patients are able to see clearly within a few hours following LASIK, but because of the corneal surface removal in PRK, it takes a bit longer. Ophthalmologists estimate you are 70 percent healed at one week post-op and your vision is approximately 90 percent healed after a month. Patients who get PRK can drive after about a week.

Because the recovery time is greater for PRK, it's important patients don't get exposed to bright sun for at least a month or two. No matter which procedure, patients must be careful not to rub their eyes immediately following surgery.

How active are you?

Again, the potential corneal flap as a result of LASIK poses a risk for competitive athletes or patients with a higher chance of eye injury, so they should instead consider PRK. Once your eyes heal and the flap reattaches to the eye, there is no additional risk, but it's important to be safe until then.

What is your budget?

Refractive or laser eye surgery is deemed elective by the majority of insurance companies — save for a few plans offering benefits — so the expense will be your responsibility. Despite this, it's important not to make your decision solely based on cost, but multiple factors.