What Is LASIK Eye Surgery?
LASIK, which stands for laser in-situ keratomileusis, is a popular surgery that can correct vision in people who are nearsighted or farsighted, or who have astigmatism.
It’s one of many vision correction surgeries that work by reshaping your cornea, the clear front part of your eye, so that light focuses on the retina in the back of your eye.
Why Is LASIK Done?
When light doesn’t focus on your retina the way it should, your vision is blurry. Doctors call this a refractive error. The basic types include:
- Nearsightedness (myopia). You see things clearly when they’re close to you, but things farther away are blurry.
- Farsightedness (hyperopia). You see faraway things more clearly, but closer things are blurry.
- Astigmatism. This can make everything blurry because of how your eye is shaped.
Talk to your doctor about whether LASIK is right for you. You shouldn’t have the surgery if you:
- Are younger than 18
- Are pregnant or nursing
- Take certain medications
- Have a lot of recent changes to your vision prescription
- Have thin or uneven corneas
- Have eye conditions such as glaucoma or very dry eyes
- Have other health issues such as diabetes, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
LASIK Eye Surgery Benefits
The benefits of LASIK include:
- It’s been around for over 25 years. About 96% of patients reach their vision goals afterward. An enhancement can raise this number even more.
- There’s very little, if any, pain involved.
- There aren’t any bandages or stitches.
- If your vision changes as you age, your doctor can adjust it.
- You probably won’t need to use glasses or contacts as much, or at all, after LASIK.
LASIK Eye Surgery Risks
As with any surgery, LASIK carries some risks, including:
- It’s a complex procedure. It’s rare, but there may be problems that permanently affect your vision. This is one reason to choose a surgeon who has a lot of experience with these surgeries.
- Rarely, you may lose your "best" correctable vision, the highest degree of vision that you had while wearing contacts or eyeglasses, after LASIK.
- Most insurance doesn’t cover LASIK.
LASIK Eye Surgery Side Effects
Some patients have discomfort in the first day or two after LASIK eye surgery. Other side effects are rare and usually go away over time. They include:
- Seeing halos around images
- Trouble driving at night
- Fluctuating vision
- Dry eyes
- Scratchy eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Small bruises on your eye
How Should I Prepare for LASIK Eye Surgery?
Before LASIK, you’ll meet with a coordinator or eye surgeon who will talk about what to expect during and after the procedure. They’ll ask about your medical history and do a full eye exam. This may include tests to measure the thickness of your cornea, refraction, and eye pressure. They may map your corneas and dilate your pupils. The surgeon will answer any questions you may have. Then, you can schedule an appointment for the surgery.
If you use rigid gas-permeable contact lenses, don’t wear them for at least 3 weeks before your evaluation. Don’t wear other types of contact lenses for at least 3 days prior to the evaluation. Be sure to bring your eyeglasses so the surgeon can review your prescription.
On the day of your surgery, eat a light meal before going in, and take all of your prescribed medications. Don’t wear eye makeup or bulky accessories in your hair that might interfere with your head position. If you’re not feeling well that morning, call the doctor's office to ask what you should do.
What Happens During LASIK Eye Surgery?
Your doctor will give you drops to numb your eyes. You can also ask for a mild sedative.
They’ll use an instrument called a microkeratome or a femtosecond laser to make a thin flap in your cornea. They’ll peel it back and use another laser to reshape the tissue underneath. Then, they’ll put the flap back in place, and the surgery is done.
The LASIK procedure itself usually takes about 20 minutes. Plan to have someone drive you home after surgery.
What Should I Expect After LASIK Eye Surgery?
Your eyes will be dry, even though they may not feel that way. Your doctor will give you prescription eyedrops to prevent infection and inflammation, as well as drops to keep your eyes moist. You might have a brief, slight burning feeling or blurry vision when you use them. Do not use any eyedrops without asking your doctor about them.
Your eyes will probably heal very quickly. Most patients notice better vision within a few days. Call your doctor if you have any problems or unusual side effects.
Don’t swim or use a hot tub for 2 weeks after surgery. You might get a plastic shield to protect your eyes while you’re sleeping for a few days.
Your doctor will tell you when to come back for follow-up visits. The first one will probably be a day or so after the procedure.
Your vision can still change after LASIK. You might have to use reading glasses as you get older. More than 10% of people need a second LASIK procedure some time later to restore the effects. But overall, 90% of patients have vision that’s between 20/20 and 20/40 after LASIK surgery.