What to Know About Laser Eye Surgery

Discover the benefits of getting laser eye surgery. Learn how LASIK treats your damaged cornea and what side effects to expect after treatment.

LASIK is a type of laser eye surgery designed to treat medical issues affecting your vision. The surgery focuses on treating your cornea, the central part of your eye. The cornea is responsible for focusing on light, allowing your eyes to create an image in your retina. Some individuals have damaged or misshapen corneas, which limits their ability to filter light. A damaged cornea causes images to appear blurry. Based on the damage to your cornea, blurriness may only occur at select distances, such as when you are close to or further away from an object. While glasses can help with correcting these issues, it is only a temporary solution.

The only way to permanently repair damage to your cornea is through laser eye surgery. While there are several types of surgeries available, the most popular is Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis, more commonly known as LASIK.

How to Prepare for Laser Eye Surgery

While LASIK has a high success rate in treating cornea issues, it is not the right procedure for all eye damage. LASIK is an involved treatment, which requires you to first get a consultation with a surgeon. During the consultation, the surgeon explains how the process works and performs an examination to determine whether you are a candidate for LASIK. The consultation also determines the exact issue with your cornea. Your surgeon will use an advanced wavefront scanner to measure your eye, allowing them to create a custom treatment plan to reshape your cornea.

How Laser Eye Surgery Works

While LASIK is not a new procedure, technological advancements have greatly changed how the procedure works. Not only has LASIK become safer and more effective, but the overall cost and recovery time have both decreased from the earlier days of the procedure. For most patients, LASIK is completed within 30 minutes. A difference with laser eye surgery compared to other treatments is you are fully awake during the procedure. This is because your eyes must be open in order for the laser to target your cornea. While this may not seem important, many risks associated with surgery are the result of being put to sleep.

As part of the setup process, your surgeon places numbing drops in your eyes. Your eyes are then placed into a medical device to keep your eyelids open for the treatment. Because this process is uncomfortable for many patients, it is common for surgeons to also administer medication to reduce anxiety. 

Once the devices are set up, the surgeon makes a tiny incision underneath the small ring of your cornea. After the cut, your vision may become blurry, or the ring around your eye will tighten. Both reactions are normal and temporary side effects. Your surgeon will make a second incision, this time around the front of your eye. This creates a shape for the surgeon to sculpt around your cornea tissue and reshape your eye. When your cornea is reshaped, your surgeon completes the procedure by sealing the initial incision.

Post-Surgery Recovery

While the LASIK procedure is quick, the recovery is lengthy. On average, most patients take two to three months before they fully recover. This is because it takes time for your reshaped cornea to adjust to the new position of your eye. There are a few common side effects after the surgery, including an itchy feeling in your eye. Watery eyes and blurred vision are also expected. While it is less common, you may experience minor pain or discomfort around your eye. Your doctor can prescribe medication or eye drops to alleviate these symptoms. If the irritation continues, your doctor may recommend wearing a shield or protective covering over your eye during the evening.

After LASIK, you must schedule several follow up appointments with your doctor. The first appointment occurs within the first week of the procedure, so your doctor can perform a general checkup and make sure there are no issues with your eyes. After this appointment, you typically see your doctor once a month, for the following five or six months.

Benefits of LASIK

LASIK and similar procedures will not provide perfect vision. The overall success varies from patient to patient. However, the majority of patients, over 80 percent, report significant vision improvements after the treatment. LASIK allows the majority of patients to stop wearing glasses or contacts. The procedure has the best results when it is used to address nearsightedness. Your vision will still improve if you are farsighted or have astigmatism, but there may still be minor blurring even after the treatment.

Common Side Effects

After the procedure, you may experience several side effects. Within the first few days, it is common to experience an increased sensitivity to light. You may see glares or halos, or even experience double vision. This typically lasts for two to four days, but some patients reported these side effects for closer to two or three weeks. 

Another common side effect is dry eyes. This is because when your eye is healing, your body produces less tears. This may also lead to itchy eyes or cause minor blurriness. The easiest way to treat this is with eye drops. In extreme cases, surgeons will install plugs within your tear ducts to increase production and eliminate dry eyes. This is typically only done if you have another eye condition which will worsen without the treatment.

You are more likely to notice side effects from LASIK if you have an autoimmune disorder or weakened immune system. You are also at higher risk of side effects if your pupils are larger than average or if your cornea is thin.

Costs of Laser Eye Surgery

While every surgeon charges a different rate, you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 per eye. Unfortunately, laser eye surgery is typically classified as a cosmetic surgery. As a result, most insurance plans do not cover the costs. There are a few options if you are concerned about the costs. Many surgeons offer significant discounts on the procedure during select periods. For example, you can get up to $1,000 off the procedure through Now LASIK.

Surgeons will commonly set up a payment plan so you are not paying for the entirety of the procedure all at once. You may also be able to save money by using either a flexible spending account (FSA) or a health savings account (HAS). If you are still struggling with costs, consider shopping around for less expensive surgeons in your area. You can search for certified surgeons through the American College of Surgeons (ACS) or the American Academy of Ophthalmology.