Laser eye surgery can help treat a variety of eye conditions and improve vision quality. Treatments such as LASIK have become increasingly popular, but not everyone is a candidate for this surgery.
In this article, you will learn about the different types of eye surgery, what laser eye surgery for vision correction is like, and other things you should 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 may decrease your risk of developing complications and reduce your recovery time after surgery.
People tend to think about laser eye surgery in terms of vision correction, but doctors may also use it to treat other conditions, including:
When it comes to refractive errors or vision correction, laser surgery can treat issues such as:
Healthcare professionals can use lasers to destroy, remove, or reshape tissue to address a variety of conditions, as mentioned above. These procedures might be considered either 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 up a flap in the surface of your cornea and another to reshape the cornea. They then smooth the protective flap back over your eye, and it stays in place without stitches once the surgery is complete.
- SMILE: In this technique, a surgeon uses a laser to reshape your cornea through a small incision that seals itself off 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 skin layer grows back naturally.
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’ve had surgery or not.
So, although the surgery can correct your original vision problem, you may develop other vision changes afterward, especially if you had laser surgery at a young age.
One study found that 94% of people who had laser surgery for vision correction were able to avoid using physical correction tools such as glasses and contacts even 5 years later. However, about 1 in 10 people who have laser surgery need follow-up procedures to get the best results.
Like any other procedure, laser eye surgery isn’t 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 usually not recommended for people who:
- have a severe irregular astigmatism
- play contact sports
- have frequently changing vision prescriptions
- have autoimmune diseases or other conditions that inhibit healing
- have diabetes and reduced corneal sensation
Some conditions may make you ineligible for laser eye surgery altogether. These include:
- large pupils
- Herpes simplex or Herpes zoster of the eye
- angle closure glaucoma
- ocular hypertension
- previous eye injuries or surgeries
- thin corneas
- dry eyes
Before your procedure, your surgeon will review your needs and any specific risks you may have, take measurements of your eyes, and give you specific instructions for the surgery.
On the day of surgery, you should dress comfortably and plan for an outpatient procedure with someone to drive you home afterward. Although the time the procedure takes can vary by person and location, laser vision correction usually takes about 30 minutes per eye.
Here’s what you might expect during laser vision correction surgery:
- A healthcare professional will administer eye drops to numb your eyes.
- They will place an eyelid holder with a small suction cup over your eye to hold your eye steady and keep you from blinking. This may feel like a finger pressing over 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 stare 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 before your procedure. During this portion of the surgery, you may hear a clicking sound.
- When the reshaping is complete, your surgeon will put the corneal flap back into place and finish the procedure.
Any surgery carries a risk of some form 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 eye
- vision disturbances such as glares 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 see-through shield or another protective device to wear over your eyes. This shield helps protect your eyes from injury and prevent you from rubbing or scratching at your eyes.
It’s common to feel some discomfort, pain, itching, or burning immediately after the surgery. Your doctor may suggest some medications for pain relief. It’s best to plan to go home and rest or even nap for the rest of the day after surgery. Avoid rubbing or scratching your eyes.
Your doctor will also give you instructions on when you can drive and return to other activities. You will likely be able to resume most activities within 1 to 3 days after surgery. Your surgeon will also schedule a time for you to come back 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 anywhere between $1,000 and $2,400 per eye.
Although health insurance plans may cover laser eye surgeries to treat conditions such as cancer, they usually do not cover elective procedures for vision correction, such as LASIK.
However, many insurance companies offer discounts or savings programs. If you have a flexible spending account or health savings account, you may be able to use funds from these accounts to cover some or all of your costs for the procedure.
During laser surgery, surgeons use focused light beams to remove or reshape tissue. Laser surgery for the eyes can treat certain medical conditions or correct vision problems. Not everyone is a candidate for laser eye surgery, and it’s possible for your vision to worsen 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 would be performing the procedure.