LASIK is a type of laser eye surgery that corrects refractive eye conditions like nearsightedness and astigmatism by changing the shape of your cornea. The name stands for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis.
It is an outpatient treatment that takes less than an hour at a ophthalmologist’s office. While the surgery is brief, the recovery takes time and can involve several symptoms, including dry eyes.
Experiencing dry eyes after LASIK is common, and your doctor will give you methods to treat the condition following your procedure. Half of people who have LASIK experience dry eyes a week after their procedure. This number reduces to 40 percent in 1 month and 20 to 40 percent in 6 months.
Despite the risk of some people developing dry eyes following LASIK, the procedure is popular. One study found that 95 percent of people who received LASIK were satisfied with how the method corrected their vision.
Here we explain why you experience dry eyes from LASIK, risks involved in the procedure, how you can treat dry eyes, and when you should contact your doctor.
If you have dry eyes before the procedure, the condition may temporarily get worse following LASIK. Other reasons you may experience dry eyes after LASIK are:
- The procedure alters or cuts the nerves in the cornea when your doctor creates the flap to correct your vision. This makes your eyes less sensitive, and they may not produce enough moisturizing tears while you heal.
- The surface of your eye becomes irritated and uncomfortable following the procedure, causing your eyes to feel dry.
Many people experience dry eyes after LASIK, and most see a reduction in the symptom within weeks or months. A small number of people may still have dry eyes a year after their procedure.
Your symptoms will reduce with time as your eye heals and begins to make more tears for lubrication. During this time, the nerves in the eye also regenerate the cornea.
You may be at a higher risk for dry eyes after LASIK if you:
- have dry eyes before the procedure
- are female
- are post-menopausal
- need moderate or severe vision correction
- require adjustments during surgery related to the depth of the eye or alterations to the flap
While having dry eyes before LASIK is a risk factor, it doesn’t mean you are unable to get LASIK surgery. Your doctor will determine your specific risk factors and weigh the benefits of the procedure. You may need to try various treatments for dry eyes prior to getting LASIK. One study found that people with dry eyes can receive LASIK surgery, but you may have more severe symptoms after the procedure. In most cases, your dry eye symptoms will return to pre-surgery levels within 1 year of getting LASIK.
There are other risk factors that may prevent you from getting LASIK, including:
- certain eye conditions
- autoimmune diseases
- uncontrolled diabetes
- changing vision
- unusually shaped or thin corneas
- ocular herpes, a condition of the eye caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV)
You may experience blurred vision along with dry eyes while you heal from the procedure. This can occur if your tears do not spread evenly over your eye. This can make it difficult to focus light, leading to blurry vision. Blurred vision along with dry eyes should be temporary. Discuss any symptoms with your doctor to get proper treatment.
There are other side effects of LASIK that should recede with time, including:
- blood-colored patches on the whites of the eye
- halos around lights at night
Symptoms of dry eye after LASIK include:
- discomfort or pain
- eye tiredness
- red eye
These symptoms should go away in the weeks and months following your procedure as the eyes heal.
There are ways to treat dry eyes following LASIK, including home remedies and prescription medications. Follow your doctor’s instructions for treatment.
Home remedies and OTC treatment
- Rest. Sleep or rest in a quiet place following your procedure to allow your body to recover.
- Protect your eyes. Your doctor will give you an eye shield to wear for a few days after your procedure.
- Avoid exercise. Avoid exercise and high-impact activities in the weeks following LASIK to allow your body to heal.
- Warm compress. Use a warm compress on your eyes if you experience dry eyes and have meibomian gland dysfunction.
- Avoid screen time. When we look at computer, phone, or TV screens, we blink much less, which decreases the amount of tears (lubrication) and can irritate our eyes.
- Eye drops. Eye drops with different amounts of hyaluronic acid may help keep your eyes moist. There are other eye drops meant to help your eyes stimulate moisture.
- Anti-inflammatories. You may need an eye drop to help with eye inflammation. One type of eye drop is cyclosporine (Restasis).
If these treatments don’t work, your doctor may recommend ointments to relieve dry eyes, or dissolvable silicone plugs (called punctal plugs) to temporarily keep more tears on the surface of the eye.
Dry eyes following LASIK is considered normal, but you should still see a doctor if your condition worsens or if you experience extreme pain. In some situations, these instances may result in severe outcomes like vision loss. See a doctor if you still have dry eyes months or years following LASIK.
Dry eyes after LASIK is common, and the best way to handle it is to follow your doctor’s instructions for healing after the procedure. Resting, avoiding certain activities, attending follow-up appointments, and using prescribed medications will help you heal properly.
Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is also a laser surgery technique used to modify the cornea. However, it uses a different method. With PRK, a eye surgeon takes away the top layer of the cornea, known as the epithelium. Your surgeon then uses lasers to reshape the other layers of the cornea and fix any irregular curvature in your eye.
If you are considering alternative treatments to LASIK, speak with your doctor about PRK, which does not usually cause dry eyes. It does, however, have a considerably longer recovery period.
Dry eyes can occur after LASIK surgery. In most cases, your dry eyes will improve as you heal from your procedure. Speak with your doctor about how to treat dry eyes, and call them immediately if your symptoms worsen or if you experience pain.