PRK vs. LASIK

LASIK and PRK are types of refractive eye surgery. They treat vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.

Both LASIK and PRK use a laser to reshape the cornea, the clear outer layer of your eye that focuses light so you can see clearly. But they do it in slightly different ways.

LASIK creates a thin flap in the cornea. PRK removes the outer layer of the cornea, which grows back over time.

Both procedures have pros and cons. Ask your doctor which one -- LASIK or PRK -- is right for you.

What Happens During PRK?

You have PRK in an outpatient surgery center. First, the doctor will use drops to numb your eye. They’ll place a special eyelid holder over your eye so you don't blink.

The surgeon removes the top layer of your cornea with a blade, laser, brush, or alcohol-based liquid. Then, they use a laser to reshape your cornea.

PRK takes about 15 minutes for both eyes.

What Happens During LASIK?

You get LASIK at an eye doctor's office or outpatient surgery center. First the doctor will clean and numb your eye with drops.

The surgeon puts a device on your eye to prevent you from blinking. They’ll place a suction ring on your eye to keep it still. You'll feel a little bit of pressure, and your vision will briefly go dark.

Then the surgeon uses a laser or a device called a microkeratome to cut a thin flap in your cornea. They’ll reshape your cornea with a laser, and then fold the flap back into place. The flap will seal up once it heals.

LASIK surgery should take less than 30 minutes for both eyes.

How Do You Prepare?

Your eye doctor will examine your eyes and check your vision before your procedure. They’ll also measure your cornea and pupil.

You may want to stop wearing your contacts anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks before the procedure. The doctor can tell you when to stop, based on the type of contacts you have.

Don't wear any eye makeup or cream around your eyes on the day of your surgery. Make sure you have a ride home. You won't be able to drive afterward.

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What Are the Side Effects?

PRK: Your eyes will feel sore or scratchy for a few days. You might also notice halos around lights at night. If you get these problems, they won’t last long. Your eye doctor will tell you how to manage them.

More serious side effects, like infections, cloudiness and scarring of your cornea, or vision loss, are extremely rare.

LASIK: Your eyes may hurt, itch, or burn. Your vision might be blurry for a few days. Other possible, but less likely, side effects include:

Theres a tiny chance you could get an eye infection or lose vision after LASIK, but this is extremely rare.

What Is the Recovery Like?

After PRK, you'll have a bandage contact lens in your eye. The lens protects your eye and helps it heal.

You'll need to avoid intense activity for at least the first week after PRK or LASIK. Don't rub your eyes. It could damage your cornea. Wear sunglasses for as long as the eye doctor tells you to. Sun exposure can scar your cornea and cause vision problems.

Recovery from LASIK is faster. Many people can see clearly within a few hours. It can take a week or more to have clear vision after PRK.

How Much Do They Cost?

Costs depend on your provider and insurance. In general, LASIK costs about $2,200 per eye. PRK may be a few hundred dollars less because it's easier and faster to perform.

Some eye centers try to keep prices close so your doctor can offer you the best procedure for your eyes, without price being a concern.

What Is the Outlook?

LASIK and PRK are equally safe, and both work well. Around 9 out of every 10 people who have one of these procedures have 20/20 or better vision afterward without the need for glasses or contact lenses.

If you're active, you might prefer LASIK because you'll have clear vision faster. But if you’re into contact sports, PRK might be best because LASIK requires the doctor to cut a flap on your cornea, and it could get knocked loose. PRK may be a better choice for people with thin corneas and dry eyes.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on July 19, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Cornea," "LASIK -- Laser Eye Surgery," "What Is Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK)?"

Michigan Health: “How LASIK Surgery Can Help Athletes Perform at Their Best,” "LASIK vs. PRK: Which Vision Correction Surgery is Right for You?" "Pros and Cons of LASIK: Are the Risks Worth the Cost?"

FDA: "What should I expect before, during, and after surgery?"

Mayo Clinic: "LASIK eye surgery."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy)."

Cleveland Clinic: "Photorefractive Keratectomy Surgery: Risks/Benefits," “Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK) Surgery: Recovery and Outlook,” "What should I expect after PRK surgery?"

American Refractive Surgery Council: "Beyond Seeing Clearly: What to Expect with LASIK Recovery," "What is the LASIK Success Rate?"

UCLA Health: "Laser Vision Correction FAQs."

University of Utah Health: "Cost & Payment Options for LASIK & Vision Correction Surgery."

Utah Eye Associates: “Reduce the Risk of Infection after LASIK.”

NVISION Eye Centers: “Complications From PRK: What Are They and How Common Are They?

The LASIK Vision Institute: “Preparing for Vision Correction Surgery.”

Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery: “Symptoms of dry eye and recurrent erosion syndrome after refractive surgery.”

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