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Laser eye surgery reshapes the surface of your eye to correct vision concerns such as nearsightedness, astigmatism, or farsightedness.

In 1987, Dr. Steven Trokel and his colleges performed the first photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) laser eye surgery in Berlin. Since then, other laser eye surgeries developed.

Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is the most common technique that healthcare providers perform.

If you’ve been considering having laser eye surgery to improve your vision, you may be wondering if laser eye surgery hurts.

In most cases, laser eye surgery is painless, and you’ll stay awake during the procedure.

During your recovery, you may only experience mild discomfort. Severe pain is a symptom of a rare complication such as an infection.

Keep reading to learn about what to expect during and after your procedure.

LASIK laser eye surgery is usually painless. You may experience a feeling of pressure in your eyes during the procedure, but this may be unlikely.

Before your surgery, your surgeon will give you anesthetic drops to numb your eyes.

They’ll then use a small blade or laser to cut a flap in the outer layer of your eyes called the cornea. After that, they’ll use a laser to reshape your eyes. After your procedure, your eyes may:

  • burn
  • itch
  • have the sensation like there’s something in them

You will be given a protective shield to keep you from rubbing your eyes or accidentally poking them. The shield also helps you avoid putting pressure on your eyes while you sleep.

According to the FDA, you may experience mild discomfort or pain after your surgery once the anesthesia wears off.

Potential complications that may cause pain

Like any surgery, laser eye surgery comes with a risk of complications. Some complications such as an infection or dislodged corneal flap may cause severe pain.

If you’re experiencing severe pain, you should contact your doctor immediately.

It’s important to avoid rubbing your eyes for about 1 week after your surgery, and follow the rest of your doctor’s post-surgery instructions to prevent complications.

The majority of people who get laser eye surgery stay awake during the procedure. The entire surgery usually takes less than 30 minutes.

The actual laser procedure usually takes less than a minute per eye. The newer SMILE procedure only takes about 25 seconds per eye, according to a 2016 research review.

Anesthetic eye drops are preferred by surgeons over general anesthesia that puts you to sleep.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, general anesthesia comes has risks and would increase the price of the surgery.

Although it’s rare, general anesthesia can cause some potentially life threatening side effects such as malignant hyperthermia, a condition that causes a fever and muscle contractions.

If you’re feeling anxious about your surgery, you may be offered a sedative such as valium to help you relax.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions after your eye surgery. Following your post-surgery care guidelines gives you the best chance of avoiding complications.

Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do after your surgery.

Do

  • Schedule an appointment with your doctor 24 to 48 hours after your procedure and at regular intervals for the first 6 months, according to the FDA.
  • Call your doctor immediately if you experience severe pain or if your vision gets worse instead of better.
  • Wear your protective eye shield when sleeping the first few nights.
  • Take your eye drops as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Get as much rest as possible.
  • Wear safety goggles in dusty environments.
  • Wear sunglasses.

Don’t

  • Rub your eyes after the procedure.
  • Drive at night for at least a month after your surgery.
  • Play contact sports until your doctor says it’s OK. Strenuous sports such as boxing or football shouldn’t be played for at least a month.
  • Use lotions, creams, or makeup for up to 2 weeks after surgery or until your doctor says it’s OK.
  • Go swimming or use a hot tub or whirlpool for 1 to 2 months
  • Spend time in dusty or smoking rooms.
Healthline

Severe pain isn’t normal after laser eye surgery. If you’re experiencing severe pain it may be a symptom of a potentially serious complication, and you should contact your doctor right away.

You should also contact your doctor if your vision gets worse instead of better or if you notice redness or discoloration, or discharge around your eyes.

The most common side effect after laser eye surgery is dry eyes. Studies have found that 85 to 98 percent of people experience dry eyes a week after LASIK surgery.

Other potential side effects include:

  • Change in vision. According to a 2017 research review, up to 20 percent of people report vision changes after LASIK including glare, seeing a halo, star-bursting patterns when looking at lights, haze, decreased contrast sensitivity.
  • Sand of Sahara syndrome. Sand of Sahara syndrome, or diffuse lamellar keratitis, is a condition characterized by inflammatory particles beneath your corneal flap. It’s thought to occur in as many as 2 percent of LASIK procedures.
  • Corneal flap complications. Problems involving the flap your surgeon cut during the procedure occur in 0.1 to 4 percent of people undergoing LASIK.
  • Corneal ectasia. Corneal ectasia is a weakening of your cornea that causes your cornea to change shape. It occurs in about 0.04 to 0.6 percent of people after LASIK.
  • Infections. Infections occur in less than 0.1 percent of people who receive LASIK.

Rare side effects of LASIK occurring in less than 1 out of 1000 people include:

The majority of people don’t experience any pain during their laser eye surgery. You may feel some pressure, but your surgeon will give you numbing eye drops before your procedure to minimize discomfort.

It’s common to experience some discomfort or mild pain after your procedure once the eye drops wear off.

However, severe pain is a symptom of a potentially serious complication. If you experience severe pain after your procedure, you should contact your doctor right away.