Laser eye surgery: what you need to know
Laser eye surgery can help treat various eye conditions and improve the quality of vision. Treatments such as LASIK have become increasingly popular, but not everyone is a candidate for this surgery.
In this article, you’ll learn about the different types of eye surgery, what laser eye surgery looks like for vision correction, and other things you need to know before scheduling a procedure.
Laser therapy involves using different levels of focused light rays to cut, shape or remove certain structures in your body.
For the delicate layers of your eyes, laser therapy offers a less invasive approach than traditional surgery. Laser eye surgery can decrease your risk of developing complications and reduce your recovery time after surgery.
People tend to think of laser eye surgery in terms of vision correction, but doctors can also use it to treat other conditions, including:
When it comes to refractive errors or vision correction, laser surgery can treat issues such as:
Medical professionals can use lasers to destroy, remove, or reshape tissue to treat various conditions, as mentioned above. These procedures can be considered laser surgeries or laser guided surgeries.
The most common form of laser therapy is refractive laser surgery to correct vision problems. Three main types of laser surgery fall into this category:
- LASIK: For this procedure, a surgeon uses two lasers – one to open a flap on the surface of your cornea and another to reshape the cornea. They then smooth the protective flap over your eye, and it stays in place without stitches after the surgery is complete.
- SMILE: In this technique, a surgeon uses a laser to reshape your cornea through a small incision that seals after the procedure.
- Surface laser treatments (PRK, LASEK and TransPRK): In these treatments, a surgeon removes the layer of superficial cells covering your cornea before reshaping the cornea. Over time, this layer of skin naturally regrows.
How long does LASIK last?
In theory, laser vision correction is a permanent surgery that should technically last a lifetime. The surgery corrects the current vision problem, but your eyes will continue to change over time, whether you have had surgery or not.
So while surgery may correct your original vision problem, you may develop other vision changes later on, especially if you had laser surgery at a young age.
A study revealed that 94% of people who had laser surgery for vision correction were able to avoid using physical corrective tools such as glasses and contacts even 5 years later. However, approximately 1 in 10 people who have laser surgery need follow-up procedures to get the best results.
Like any other procedure, laser eye surgery is not for everyone. Laser procedures to treat conditions such as cancer and retinopathy fall into a different category, but when it comes to laser surgery for vision correction, surgery is generally not recommended for people who :
- have severe irregular astigmatism
- practice contact sports
- have vision prescriptions that change frequently
- have autoimmune diseases or other conditions that inhibit healing
- have diabetes and reduced corneal sensation
Certain conditions can make you completely ineligible for laser eye surgery. These include:
Before your procedure, your surgeon will review your specific needs and risks you may have, take measurements of your eyes, and give you specific instructions for surgery.
On the day of surgery, you should dress comfortably and plan an outpatient procedure with someone to drive you home afterwards. Although the length of the procedure can vary by person and location, laser vision correction typically takes about 30 minutes per eye.
Here’s what you might expect during laser vision correction surgery:
- A healthcare professional will give you eye drops to numb your eyes.
- They will place an eyelid support with a small suction cup over your eye to hold your eye steady and prevent you from blinking. It may feel like a finger is pressing on your eyelid and your vision will be dim or black.
- Your surgeon will use a laser to create a thin flap of tissue in your cornea and fold it back.
- Your surgeon will ask you to look straight ahead at a target light while they use another laser to reshape your cornea. This laser is programmed to correct your vision problem based on specific measurements taken prior to your procedure. During this part of the surgery you may hear a clicking sound.
- Once the remodeling is complete, your surgeon will put the corneal flap back in place and complete the procedure.
Any surgery carries a risk of complication, and laser eye surgery is no exception. Possible complications or side effects of laser eye surgery include:
- a gritty feeling
- redness in the eyes
- visual disturbances such as glare or halos
- eye pain
- Light sensitivity
Severe vision loss or blindness is possible after laser surgery, but this is rare.
When your laser surgery is complete, your surgeon may provide you with a clear shield or other protective device to wear over your eyes. This shield helps protect your eyes from injury and prevents you from rubbing or scratching your eyes.
It is common to feel discomfort, pain, itching or burning immediately after surgery. Your doctor may suggest medications for pain relief. It is best to plan to go home and rest or even take a nap for the rest of the day after surgery. Avoid rubbing or scratching your eyes.
Your doctor will also let you know when you can drive and resume other activities. You will probably be able to resume most of your activities within 1 to 3 days after surgery. Your surgeon will also schedule a time for you to return to the office for a follow-up exam.
The cost of laser eye surgery depends on where you live, the surgeon performing the procedure, and the specific type of surgery you are having. LASIK surgery can cost between $1,000 and $2,400 per eye.
Although health insurance plans may cover laser eye surgeries to treat conditions such as cancer, they generally do not cover elective vision correction procedures, such as LASIK.
However, many insurance companies offer discounts or savings programs. If you have a Flexible Spending Account or a Health Savings Account, you may be able to use funds from these accounts to cover some or all of your court costs.
During laser surgery, surgeons use focused light beams to remove or reshape tissue. Laser eye surgery can treat certain medical conditions or correct vision problems. Not everyone is a candidate for laser eye surgery, and your vision may deteriorate over time, even after surgery.
The decision to have laser eye surgery is specific to each person and is best made with the guidance of the surgeon who will perform the procedure.