How Does LASIK Work?
LASIK is the most common type of refractive surgery. It is a quick and relatively painless in-office procedure that is used to correct varying degrees of nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. The procedure generally results in minimal post-operative pain and rapid recovery of vision.
During the procedure, the surgeon makes a small, hinged flap in the cornea and folds it back. Then a laser reshapes the cornea—the clear, round dome at the front of your eye. The actual surgery only takes about 10 minutes per eye, but you should expect to be at the laser center for about three hours for the total process. Recovery is fast and there is minimal or no post-treatment discomfort.
High Success Rate
LASIK has a high success rate, especially for nearsightedness. Some patients experience improved vision immediately after surgery, while it may take one day for others, depending on your prescription.
- 94-100% of low-to-moderate nearsighted patients achieve 20/40 vision or better
- 70% of patients achieve 20/25 or better
- 3-10% of all patients need a “touch up” surgery
However, standard LASIK does not treat presbyopia—the blurry close-up vision that starts after age 40. (Blended or monovision techniques—where one eye is corrected for distance and the other for close up—may help correct presbyopia. Additionally, corneal inlays may be combined with LASIK.) You may still need glasses for driving at night, and if you have a strong prescription, there's a chance you will still need glasses most of the time after surgery.
More About LASIK
Your personal goals and medical and vision history play an important role in determining if LASIK (or another type of refractive surgery) is right for you. You might be a good candidate if:
- You are 21 years or older
- Your prescription has not changed for at least one year
- Your job allows laser eye surgery
- Your eyes and overall health are good
- You have realistic expectations
While there is no upper-age limit for LASIK, aging eyes can present unique challenges that may make surgery more difficult. If you are 40+ years old, consult a qualified refractive surgeon to screen for any potential conditions that may make you ineligible for LASIK. You may be better suited for a different type of corrective surgery.
If you want to get rid of your reading glasses, your doctor may recommend a specialized type of LASIK (blended or monovision surgery) or corneal inalys to correct your vision up close.
Laser eye surgery is generally very safe, but there are risks involved. Many common side effects, such as dry eye or other discomforts, clear up within a few days to months. But some can require further surgery or cause permanent damage.
Common risks include:
- Permanent dry eye
- Halos, glare, or double vision, which may make night driving difficult
- Over- or under-correction of vision
- In very rare cases, blindness and irreversible eye damage can occur
Possible corneal flap complications include irregular or incomplete flaps, ingrowth of cells under the flap that may need to be surgically removed, and irregular corneal healing, which can only be corrected with a corneal transplant. Corneal infection and inflammation can also occur, but are extremely rare.
Healing is relatively fast, but you may want to take a few days off from work after the surgery. You'll see your doctor 1-2 days after surgery, and most people will be able to drive to the clinic. Avoid rubbing your eyes during recovery.
When can I...
Return to work: Next day, though it may be difficult to perform prolonged reading or computer tasks right away.
Bathe or take a shower: Next day, but avoid getting soap or water in your eyes.
Drive: Next day, as long as you feel able to drive safely. Night driving can be challenging for a few days.
Wear eye makeup: After 1 week. Purchasing new makeup, especially mascara, is strongly recommended.
Exercise: After 1 week. Avoid getting sweat in your eyes for at least 4 days. Otherwise, non-contact sports can be resumed as soon as you feel comfortable.
Swim, sauna, or hot tub: After 2 weeks (minimum).
Travel on an airplane: It is advised to stay locally for at least 1 week after your surgery. Air travel is not recommended the first week, unless it is an emergency. If you need to travel by plane, you should frequently use artificial tears to keep your eyes lubricated (1 drop for every hour on the plane before and after landing and take-off).