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how lasik eye surgery works

In 1999, the FDA approved LASIK eye surgery as a safe method for restoring specific refractive errors, which can reduce or eliminate the need for glasses or contacts. More than two decades later, ophthalmologists perform roughly 600,000 LASIK surgeries each year. The vast majority of which leave patients with improved vision and freedom from the need to wear eyeglasses or contacts regularly.

To date, the FDA has approved LASIK eye surgery for correcting patients with qualifying diagnoses of: 

  • Myopia 
  • Hyperopia 
  • Presbyopia 
  • Astigmatism 
  • And more 

That said, there can be side effects, and there are inherent risks. It is essential for prospective LASIK patients to learn how LASIK eye surgery works, to identify its risks and benefits, and determine whether the surgery will improve their quality of life before moving forward with a surgery date. 

What Is LASIK Eye Surgery? 

The term LASIK stands for laser-assisted in situ keratomileuses. Defects in the cornea are the most common cause of refractive errors requiring prescription lenses. Thus, LASIK surgery was designed to manually correct corneal imperfections and restore vision. It is considered an out-patient procedure, is done in the ophthalmologist’s office, and typically takes about 10 minutes per eye. 

During the LASIK procedure, a thin layer of the cornea is cut into a flap and held back to expose the inner cornea. This flap is micro-thin, so it heals quickly once the surgery is complete. Based on the individual patient’s refractive error, which can be different from one eye to the other, the computer-guided excimer laser reshapes the cornea (a process we call “ablation”). The ablation process is specifically engineered for each patient’s eye.  

Once the cornea is reshaped, the flap is put back into place, no sutures necessary, and the healing process begins.   

Side effects

The most common side effect of LASIK eye surgery is improved vision and bidding farewell to prescription glasses and contacts. However, some people do experience other side effects, which can include: 

  • Light sensitivity (fades over time) 
  • Halos, glare, or starbursts with night vision (typically these fade within a year) 
  • Dry eye (relieved by lubricating eye drops) 
  • Dependence on glasses or contacts (typically with a prescription far lower than before) 

Your ophthalmologist will review all of the risks and benefits, as well as your current prescription, to help you determine whether you are an ideal candidate for LASIK eye surgery or not. 

Is The Surgery Painful? 

The surgery is not painful in any way. In fact, you will be awake during the procedure, which can be off-putting to some patients. However, this also shows what a minimally-invasive surgery LASIK really is. Because the surgery is so quick – typically less than 30 minutes for both eyes – we use numbing drops, rather than anesthesia. We also provide an oral pill for anxiety about 30 minutes prior to the procedure. This will take some of the edge off during the procedure and also help you sleep during home recovery. While patients do not feel pain or discomfort, they do sometimes report feeling a slight pressure from the holder we use to keep the eye from blinking.  

NOTE: There is nothing you can do to damage your eye during the procedure. For example, if you try to blink or your eyeball moves involuntarily during the surgery, the laser tracks the eye and continues its work. If you abruptly move your body dramatically enough – like to cough, sneeze, or readjust your body – the laser automatically shuts off and is restarted once you’re realigned 

Once the procedure is over, you may feel an irritating sensation in the eyes from the microscopic flap we used to access the inner cornea. It is similar to when you have an eyelash or small irritant trapped in your eye. This typically subsides after about five or six hours, a testament to the human eye’s quick ability to heal. 

Recovery Process 

Full recovery from the surgery, and the restoration of vision, take one to two weeks for most patients. Vision may continue to adjust for the first few months afterward, requiring three to six months to stabilize completely 

Immediately after LASIK

In addition to a feeling of irritation or slight discomfort (slight stinging, burning, etc.), your eyes will water more than usual, and your vision will be blurry. To accommodate this discomfort and facilitate the healing process, you’ll leave your ophthalmologist’s office with: 

  • Recommendations to use an OTC anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, such as ibuprofen, for discomfort 
  • Antibiotic drops, to prevent infection while the micro-incision heals 
  • Anti-inflammatory drops (steroids) to reduce inflammation 
  • Artificial tears to reduce irritation and keep your eye irrigated and lubricated 

You’ll use these for several days or up to a few weeks, depending on the doctor’s recommendation. 

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience increasing pain or notably worse vision in the first hours to days after your surgery. 

24-hours afterward

Your doctor will schedule a post-operative check the day after the surgery to examine the surgery site and check-in with you about your experience. You’ll also have your vision checked. Odds are your vision will already be much clearer than when you left the office the day before, although it can take as long as three or four days for the blurriness to clear up.  

It’s best to make arrangements to take some time off work, or to schedule your surgery on the first of a few days off. Atlantic Eye Institute performs surgeries on Fridays to allow patients the weekend to recover. Most people are fine to return to work the following Monday.  

For the first weeks

Your ophthalmologist will already have information about your exercise, work, and lifestyle habits before the procedure. From what s/he learns, you’ll be provided with instructions about what you should and shouldn’t do for those first days and weeks after your LASIK eye surgery. 

For example: 

  • You should rest for the first day or two but can resume low-impact exercises and sports that don’t put you at risk for eye trauma/infection after the first week.  
  • Swimming in pools, lakes, ocean, etc. should be avoided until your incision is completely healed. 
  • It’s best to avoid wearing makeup or using fragranced creams or lotions on or around the eyelids and eyes for at least the first week to avoid irritation or infection. 

Your surgeon will let you know when you can resume your regularly scheduled activities and will be available to speak with if you have any questions or concerns during that time. 

In the months following LASIK surgery

You will schedule several checkups and vision checks with your LASIK surgeon in the weeks and months after the surgery until your vision has stabilized. After about six months, you’ll know whether the surgery has eliminated or reduced your need for corrective contact lenses or glasses. 

Ready To Improve Your Vision?

Are you interested in learning whether LASIK eye surgery is a sound option to correct your vision? Schedule a complimentary consultation with an ophthalmologist here at the Atlantic Eye Institute. 

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