Vision correction surgery refers to procedures that improve your eyesight by changing how light bends as it enters your eye. These procedures can treat nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and age-related loss of up-close vision (presbyopia). The methods include lasers, heat-induced eye shape changes and lens placement or replacement.
Vision correction surgery adjusts how your eyes focus light, improving your vision. It’s an umbrella term for a few different types of surgery that can correct refractive errors in your vision.
Your eyes are supposed to naturally focus light so it reaches the back of your eye at the correct point. Refractive errors are when your eyes don’t focus light correctly, affecting how well you see things.
There are two main places in your eyes where refraction happens:
Vision correction surgery can make changes to the corneas or the lenses, adjusting how they focus light. That’s how these procedures improve your vision.
There are two main types of vision correction surgery:
Vision correction surgery can refer to any of the following:
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When it comes to vision correction surgery, “best” isn’t about which surgery is better. The surgery that’s best for you could be very different from what’s best for someone else with the same condition.
Many things can affect which procedure is best for you. The most likely factors include:
Because the options can vary and are so personalized, your eye care specialist is your best source of information and guidance. They can explain the choices, offer recommendations and help you decide.
There are four main types of refractive errors that vision correction surgery can treat:
Vision correction surgery is very common. There are over 3.5 million refractive surgery procedures performed worldwide annually.
The preparations for vision correction surgery depend on the specific surgery you’ll undergo. But most of these procedures do have some pre-surgery steps in common, including:
Your eye care specialist can also guide you on what you’ll need to do before your surgery. Some things they should tell you (or that you can ask) include:
The preparation steps you might need to go through can still vary. Be sure to ask your provider if you have any questions or concerns about what you might need to do.
Vision correction surgery is an outpatient procedure. That means it happens in a surgery center outside a hospital, and you can go home soon after the procedure.
In general, these surgeries all start with numbing drops in your eyes so you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. Your provider will have you look upward, and they’ll place a special holder on your eye to keep your eyelid open and hold your eye still. Once your eye is secure, they’ll start the surgery itself.
The next steps vary depending on the specific procedure you’re undergoing. Your provider can tell you more specifically about the steps and what to expect during your procedure.
Laser surgeries involve making changes to the outermost layers of your eyes. Some of these procedures involve making a small incision on the surface of your eye or making a “flap” with the outer layer that they move aside. That lets the laser beam affect the underlying layers directly. Once they complete the laser alterations, your eye specialist will put the flap back in place.
Laser procedures that don’t involve a flap affect the outer surface of your eye. Changing the shape of the outer surface helps improve your vision.
Lens placement or replacement surgeries work similarly to cataract surgery, with the eye surgeon making a small incision to reach the lens in front of your eye. For phakic IOL placement, they’ll place the new lens in front of the existing lens, which they leave in place. For refractive lens exchange, your surgeon will remove your existing natural lens and replace it with an artificial lens.
Vision correction surgery is almost always a quick procedure. The surgery itself takes up to half an hour (but usually less than half that). But, the pre-surgery preparation steps and post-surgery recovery period might last longer. The entire process often takes up to a few hours.
After your surgery, you may have a short recovery period in the surgery facility. That gives your eye time to begin the initial stages of healing. Most people go home within an hour after their surgery is complete.
Vision correction surgery can improve or fix blurred vision due to refraction errors. That can make it easier for you to see while you go about work, hobbies, social activities and more. For some, these surgeries can improve vision significantly, allowing them to do activities they couldn’t before, or return to activities they once enjoyed but had to stop because of vision difficulties.
Vision correction procedures have high success and satisfaction rates. Laser procedures tend to have the highest success and satisfaction rates.
Vision correction surgery has some risks and drawbacks. These include (but aren’t limited to):
The recovery time for vision correction surgery varies. Laser procedures usually heal the quickest, while lens placement/replacement procedures may take weeks to heal fully. Ask your provider for more info about the likely recovery timeline and what you can do to make your recovery faster and/or easier.
Immediately after surgery, your eye care specialist will give you a clear plastic shield (or something that works similarly) to wear. This protects your eye from injuries that could disrupt healing after the surgery. You should wear this shield (or any other eye protection provided or recommended by your specialist), which may include while you’re sleeping.
Some other things to keep in mind include:
You should call your eye care specialist after vision correction surgery if you experience any of the following:
There may be other symptoms to watch for, depending on your specific surgery and other factors. Your provider can tell you more about these specific concerns and what you should do if you experience them.
It’s a good idea to ask your eye care specialist about the following before you make a choice about undergoing vision correction surgery:
Yes, it’s possible to correct your vision with surgery. But it’s important to remember that sometimes, the changes don’t fully resolve your vision issues. You may still need to wear glasses or contacts in some situations. But even when vision correction surgery doesn’t completely fix refractive errors, it almost always improves vision significantly.
Vision correction surgery procedures can make a major difference in how you see the world and live your life. These procedures may be the key to helping reduce your reliance on glasses or contacts or forgo them entirely.
If you have issues wearing glasses or contacts or want to improve your vision so your prescription isn’t so strong, vision correction surgery may benefit you. Your eye care specialist can help you understand more about these procedures and help you choose one.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/29/2023.
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