LASIK Eye Surgery

Overview

What is LASIK eye surgery?

LASIK is a type of eye surgery that uses lasers to fix vision problems, specifically those caused by refractive errors. A refractive error is where your eye fails to bend light properly, distorting your vision. It can cause, for example, blurry vision, nearsightedness and farsightedness.

“LASIK” is an acronym that stands for “laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis.” “In situ” translates into “in position” or “in place” and “keratomileusis” is the medical term for the reshaping of the cornea in your eye.

What causes a refractive error?

A misshaped cornea causes a refractive error. Your cornea is the top, outermost layer of your eye and your lens is flexible tissue behind your iris (the circular membrane behind your cornea that, among other things, gives you your eye color). Your eye’s lens and cornea refract (bend) light onto your retina, which sends information to your brain. That information transforms into images.

How does LASIK eye surgery work?

Put simply, your ophthalmologist will change the shape of your cornea so that light hits your retina correctly. The procedure is performed by a laser.

What conditions get treated with LASIK eye surgery?

LASIK helps with refractive errors. The most common refractive error conditions include:

  • Astigmatism: Astigmatism is a very common eye condition that causes blurred vision.
  • Nearsightedness (myopia): Myopia is a vision disorder where you can see objects clearly that are nearby, but not those that are far away.
  • Farsightedness (hyperopia): Hyperopia is the opposite of myopia. You’re able to see objects far away, but struggle with those up close.

How common is LASIK eye surgery?

Out of all the laser treatments for refractive errors, LASIK is the most common. Over 40 million LASIK surgeries have been performed worldwide.

Procedure Details

Is LASIK eye surgery inpatient or outpatient?

LASIK surgery is an outpatient procedure. You will not have to stay overnight in a hospital.

Where is LASIK eye surgery performed?

Your LASIK eye surgery will take place at a laser center. You won’t have to go into a hospital.

What kind of healthcare provider performs LASIK eye surgery?

Ophthalmologists perform LASIK eye surgeries. These specialists diagnose and treat vision problems. The same ophthalmologist who has been caring for your eyes might do your surgery.

Your ophthalmologist might be joined by an optometrist, nurse, medical assistant and a technician.

How long does LASIK eye surgery last?

A LASIK eye surgery lasts less than 30 minutes. Be sure to have a friend or family member standing by to give you a ride home.

What happens before LASIK eye surgery?

Before LASIK surgery you and your ophthalmologist will have a conversation about how the procedure works and what to expect. Remember, LASIK will not give you perfect vision. You might still need glasses or contacts for activities like driving and reading. If you decide to have LASIK surgery, your ophthalmologist will do six tests to double check that you’re a good candidate. They’ll likely:

  • Check your pupil size.
  • Measure your cornea’s surface and thickness.
  • Measure the quality and amount of tears your eyes make (to check for dry eye).
  • Measure the refractive error.
  • Test to see if your vision has recently changed.
  • Make sure that your eyes are generally healthy.

You’ll have to stop wearing contact lenses before you undergo these tests. Doing this will help your ophthalmologist get more accurate measurements of your cornea. How long you need to switch from contact lenses to glasses depends on the type of lenses you use:

  • Hard lenses: Four weeks.
  • Soft lenses: Two weeks.
  • Toric soft lenses or rigid gas permeable lenses: Three weeks.

Stop using the following products 24 hours before your surgery:

  • Perfumes.
  • Makeup.
  • Creams.
  • Lotions.

Finally, be sure to have a family member or friend drive you home after the surgery. You will not be allowed to drive yet.

Will I be asleep during LASIK eye surgery?

No, you will be awake during the surgery. But, don’t worry, you won’t feel any pain from the lasers.

What happens during LASIK eye surgery?

The process of LASIK eye surgery can be divided into five steps:

  1. After you lie down flat, your ophthalmologist will use eye drops to numb your eyes. Although you won’t be in pain, you might feel pressure during the procedure. Patients have reported that the pressure is like a finger pressing against your eyelid.
  2. Your surgeon will place an eyelid holder and suction ring on your eye. The holder will keep you from blinking and the ring will keep your eye from moving. Your vision will dim, or possibly go completely black.
  3. Using a laser programmed with your eye measurements, your surgeon will make a flap as thin as a piece of paper in your cornea. They’ll then lift and fold that flap back, like turning the page of a book.
  4. Next, your surgeon will ask you to stare at a light shining in your eye. Staring at it keeps your eyes from moving. The laser is used again, this time to reshape your cornea so that it refracts light better. The laser might make a clicking/ticking sound. You might smell the scent of burned hair.
  5. Finally, your ophthalmologist will fold the flap of tissue back down. It will start to heal quickly — settling into place within two to three minutes.

It’s understandable if the process of LASIK surgery makes you feel uncomfortable. No one likes to think about a laser touching their eye. You might find it reassuring to know that LASIK is proven to be a safe procedure and very few people have any long-term side effects.

What happens after LASIK eye surgery?

After your LASIK eye surgery your eyes might itch or burn, or it might feel like there’s something in them. Don’t worry, this discomfort is normal. It’s also normal to have blurry or hazy vision, see glare, starbursts or haloes around lights and to be sensitive to light.

Since dry eyes are a common side effect of LASIK surgery, your ophthalmologist might give you some eye drops to take home. You might also be sent home with antibiotics and steroidal eye drops. Additionally, your ophthalmologist might also have you wear a shield over your eyes to stop you from touching your healing corneas, especially while you’re asleep.

You’ll return to your ophthalmologist one day after your surgery to get your vision tested and make sure that your eye is healing.

Risks / Benefits

What are the advantages of LASIK eye surgery?

Around 90% of people who go through LASIK eye surgery have vision between 20/20 and 20/40 (without glasses or contact lenses). 20/20 vision is normal, healthy vision — not “perfect” vision. Studies have shown that an average of 95% of individuals who have had LASIK eye surgery are satisfied with the results.

What are the risks or potential complications of LASIK eye surgery?

All surgeries come with risks. It’s highly likely that you’ll experience side effects after LASIK eye surgery, but they usually only last about a month. For some people it might be a shorter period of time, and for others it might be longer. Possible side effects include:

  • Dry eyes.
  • Vision that is blurry, hazy or foggy.
  • Vision that changes throughout the day.
  • Eye discomfort or pain.
  • Glare, halos or starbursts around lights.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Tiny red or pink patches of blood on the whites of your eyes.
  • Infection.
  • Vision that is worse than it was before the procedure (this is rare).
  • Blindness (this is extremely rare).

Sometimes these side effects become permanent. Keep that in mind when you consider this corrective surgery.

Recovery and Outlook

What’s the recovery time?

Recovery time from LASIK eye surgery is quick. You might be able to return to most of your normal activities as early as one day after the procedure. It might take longer for your eyes to heal if you’ve had a photorefractive keratectomy (PRK). This is because the cornea cells have to grow back.

Will I have to limit my activity?

Yes, you should limit your activity following your LASIK procedure until your eye heals. Your ophthalmologist might recommend the following lifestyle changes, including:

  • Don’t wear eye makeup for two weeks.
  • Avoid playing non-contact sports for three days and contact sports for four weeks.
  • Wear your eye shield at night for at least four weeks.
  • No swimming, or using a whirlpool or hot tub for at least four weeks.

When can I go back to work/school?

You might be able to go back to work/school the day after your surgery. Side effects determine this. For example, you might not be able to work for a few days if you have blurry vision.

When can I drive?

Most individuals who have LASIK eye surgery can go back to driving one day after the procedure. Don’t hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider if you have doubts about your ability to drive safely.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your ophthalmologist immediately if you’re in severe pain or if the side effects get worse. These symptoms could indicate a problem.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Depending on your ophthalmologist’s preferences, you’ll likely have several follow-up appointments especially in the first six months following the surgery. The first will be about 24 hours after the procedure.

Additional Details

Do I qualify for LASIK eye surgery?

LASIK is a great option if you’re tired of wearing glasses or contacts. However, not everyone is allowed to have the procedure. Your ophthalmologist will have to determine if you’re a good candidate. Reasons why you might qualify include:

  • You’re 18 years old or older. Your ophthalmologist might prefer you to be 21 or older.
  • Your eyes are generally healthy, especially your corneas which need to be thick with no scratches.
  • Your eye prescription hasn’t changed in the past year.

Reasons why you might not qualify include:

  • The refractive error in your eye is unstable or changing.
  • Your astigmatism, myopia or hyperopia is extreme.
  • You have a history of eye infections.
  • You have severe dry eye.
  • You have advanced glaucoma.
  • You’re pregnant or nursing.
  • You have a cataract.
  • You have uncontrolled diabetes.
  • You have an uncontrolled systemic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease.
  • You have keratoconus, which is where your cornea is shaped like a cone.

How much does LASIK eye surgery cost?

The cost of LASIK depends on a number of factors including what type of laser is used, where you’re located, what your ophthalmologist charges, etc. However, on average, the cost per eye is usually between $1500-2500.

Is LASIK eye surgery covered by insurance?

Typically LASIK is not covered by health insurance. This is because insurance companies consider it to be a cosmetic procedure, not a necessary medical one.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Healthy vision is vital for any activity whether it be reading, driving, working, gardening, playing with your kids and more. LASIK surgery is a popular procedure that can improve your eyesight, helping you depend less on glasses and contacts. Almost all patients (95%) are satisfied with their results, which is understandable considering 90% end up with vision between 20/20 and 20/40. If you’re fed up with wearing glasses or contacts, LASIK might be the best solution for you.

Remember that there are pros and cons to LASIK eye surgery and that you must meet certain criteria to be eligible. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of LASIK eye surgery with your ophthalmologist and make sure that you have realistic expectations regarding what LASIK can do for you.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/13/2021.

References

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology. LASIK – Laser Eye Surgery. (https://www.aao.org/eye-health/treatments/lasik) Accessed 10/4/2021.
  • American Refractive Surgery Council. How Does LASIK Eye Surgery Work? Everything You Need to Know. (https://americanrefractivesurgerycouncil.org/everything-you-think-you-know-about-lasik-eye-surgery/) Accessed 10/4/2021.
  • Moshirfar M, Bennett P, Ronquillo Y. Laser In Situ Keratomileusis. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555970/) Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. Accessed 10/4/2021.
  • U.S. Food & Drug Administration. What is LASIK? (https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/lasik/what-lasik) Accessed 10/4/2021.
  • U.S. Food & Drug Administration. What should I expect before, during, and after surgery? (https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/lasik/what-should-i-expect-during-and-after-surgery) Accessed 10/4/2021.

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