The laser eye surgery process

All you need to know before getting laser eye surgery

If you’re considering laser eye surgery to treat a refractive error, you probably have a lot of information and research to work through. But don’t feel too overwhelmed – we’ve broken down the steps and condensed all the important information to help you make an informed decision.

Finding a doctor

Doing research online will help you get a first impression and compare clinics

One of the most important factors of laser eye surgery is finding an eye doctor you feel comfortable with. When searching for an eye doctor, it may be helpful to:

  • Talk to people who have already had laser eye surgery 
  • Obtain experiences and reviews via evaluation portals on the internet
  • Ask your optometrist or general medical practitioner for a referral

The first appointment

An eye test will determine your eligibility for laser eye surgery

During the first appointment with your eye doctor, you can expect to:

  • Find out whether laser vision correction is a viable option for you
  • Learn which options are applicable in your case (SMILE, LASIK or PRK/LASEK)

Consulting a doctor

Your doctor will explain the treatment options to you during the first consultation

During the first consultation with your eye doctor you will:

  • Learn about costs and risks
  • Find the right solution
  • Make a final decision with your doctor
  • Choose a surgery date

Preparing for surgery

Not wearing contact lenses for a while is important while preparing for eye surgery.)

In preparation for laser eye surgery, you will have to stop wearing contact lenses a few weeks prior to the treatment and refrain from using cosmetics and make up a day before the surgery.

Undergoing the operation

Laser eye surgery is a quick treatment
The surgery is usually performed on an outpatient-basis. It can take up to 30 minutes and is normally pain free.

Post-surgery care

Resting your eyes is important for post-operative recovery
After the surgery it is important that you let your eyes rest and refrain from any strenuous activities such as sports.

Follow-up visit

Your doctor will monitor your vision during the follow-up exams
The first postoperative visit takes place on the first or second day after surgery.
Another follow-up visit will be scheduled either the following week or month.
It’s important to inform your eye doctor if you are experiencing any problems, and he or she may ask you to return for another visit.

Finding help along the way

Deciding on laser eye surgery is not easy. Understanding each step of the decision process will help in choosing the right doctor and the right procedure. Being well-informed can build confidence in deciding whether to pursue laser eye surgery. Clinics and ophthalmologists are also available to advise and guide through the decision-making process, and can answer specific questions about your individual condition.

Preparing for the procedure

Use this checklist to prepare you for everything along the way.

It is normal to have fears

It’s normal to wonder exactly what happens during the operation and to be afraid of the risks associated with it. Do research about the various options and ask your doctor all the questions you are uncertain about to put your mind at ease. Once the surgery date is scheduled, the preparation is easy. This checklist will help you keep track of all the necessary steps before having your vision error corrected.
The consultation with the doctor is an important step before the surgery
The consultation with the doctor is an important step before the surgery

What needs to be done prior to surgery

  • Find a doctor: As mentioned, you can find a doctor by referral and positive recommendations.
  • Eye examination: Set up the first appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to discuss your refractive condition and undergo an eye exam. Afterwards, it is helpful to meet with your doctor again, or to consult a clinic representative to ask questions about all the options.
  • Clarify uncertainties: Many clinics can answer follow up questions over the phone. Your refractive error prescription and lifestyle are important factors in choosing the treatment option best suited to your individual needs. Consult with your doctor and make sure the preferred option is available.
  • Choose a procedure: It is necessary to discuss which type of laser eye surgery best fits your needs and expectations with your ophthalmologist.
  • Plan for surgery: After all the steps, you can make an appointment for the surgery with the clinic.
  • Remove contacts: It is recommended to stop wearing contact lenses for at least 2-4 weeks (depending on lens material) before surgery.
  • Prepare for recovery: Preparing for post-surgery recovery may include taking the day of the surgery off from work, arranging for an alternative form of transportation to get you home, and having someone accompany you to help with your needs.

The day of surgery

The individual steps of the treatment

Laser eye surgery is a quick treatment procedure. The actual surgery lasts anywhere between a couple of minutes to half an hour depending on the solution.
Here is a guide to each step that occurs at the average surgery appointment: From arriving at the surgical center to walking out of the operating room.

Preparations on surgery day

On the day of your surgery, most doctors direct their patients to:

  • Not wear any make-up, perfume or lotion a day before, and on the day of the procedure. These products may leave debris around the eye and eyelashes, which increases the chance of infection.
  • Wear comfortable clothes.
  • Eat a light meal and stay hydrated to ensure a stable circulation for the surgery.
  • Arrange for transportation home from surgery.
Do not wear contact lenses 2-4 week prior to surgery
Do not wear contact lenses 2-4 week prior to surgery

What to expect in the operation room

Patients are conscious during surgery, but it is typically pain free. To ensure this, anaesthesia drops are applied to numb the eye. An eyelid holder is used so there is no need to worry about blinking during surgery.

Some patients report feeling slight pressure on the eye when the corneal flap is created or when the top cell layer is removed. When the laser starts, you might hear clicks as the laser pulses.

As the laser removes tissue to sculpt the cornea in LASIK and PRK/LASEK, it may smell similar to after using a hair dryer, depending on the laser device used. Depending on the type of procedure, you may be moved from one laser to another.

The last step of laser eye surgery differs depending on the solution. In LASIK, the flap will be placed back in the eye. For those undergoing PRK/LASEK, the doctor will place a supportive contact on the eye to help with healing.

Patient  undergoing laser eye surgery
You will be conscious during surgery, but you shouldn’t experience normally any pain

After the surgery

When leaving the operating room, patients may have a patch over the operated eyes for the first hours after surgery to protect them. Some patients report discomfort immediately after surgery. The eye may burn or have a foreign sensation. If it causes too much discomfort, doctors might recommend a mild pain reliever. Vision will continue to improve and stabilize over the following days and weeks.
After the surgery your vision will gradually improve
After the surgery your vision will gradually improve

Tips for recovery

What to expect after laser eye surgery

The recovery period and experience are different for SMILE, LASIK, and PRK/LASEK. It is helpful to ask an eye care provider before the operation to explain the individual recovery plan. This also helps to understand what to expect after surgery and to recognize possible complications.
In general, with some rest, restraining from some activities such as swimming or contact sports and using your prescribed eye drops, the healing process is successful and without complications.

First steps after surgery

Most doctors will recommend that you follow these instructions after surgery to support the healing process:

  • Use alternative transportation after surgery
  • Try to take a long nap to keep the eyes closed and rested
  • Resist the urge to rub the eyes if they feel itchy
  • Ask the doctor for eye drops or an over-the-counter mild pain reliever if you are feeling any discomfort or pain 
  • Explain your symptoms to the doctor during check-up after the laser eye surgery
  • While you will notice improved vision on the same day as the surgery, it is normal for sight to be a bit hazy and for the eyes to be light-sensitive within the first 24 hours.
Your doctor may prescribe eye drops to use after the surgery
Your doctor may prescribe eye drops to use after the surgery

Tips for optimal healing

Although the recovery process after laser eye surgery is usually quick and without major complications, there are a few things to keep in mind for optimal healing. Bear in mind that recovery time will differ slightly for every patient.

Depending on the surgery, the doctor may recommend taking a couple of days off work. Moreover, you should consider the following:

  • It is recommended to sleep with the patch you received after surgery for some time to avoid scratching the eye while sleeping.
  • Taking a break from sport or high-intensity activities is helpful for the recovery process. 
  • Creams and makeup should be avoided for some time after surgery. The duration of this precaution also depends on the treatment method.
  • Swimming pools and saunas should be avoided for some time after surgery.

Any discomfort from surgery usually subsides within the first few days. Your eye doctor will give you information and recovery advice specific to your surgery and lifestyle.

Rest your eyes as much as possible right after surgery
Rest your eyes as much as possible right after surgery

Post-treatment check-ups

The first post-operative check-up will typically be a day or two after surgery. At this appointment, the doctor will examine the eye to see how it is healing.

Depending on how the eye begins to heal, eye drops may be prescribed to prevent infection or to improve eye lubrication. After this initial check-up, the doctor will recommend setting up another follow-up visit, either the following week or month, to check on the vision and healing process.

The first check-up usually takes place the day after the surgery
The first check-up usually takes place the day after the surgery

Donate your glasses

After successful laser eye surgery, your old prescription glasses are no longer needed. Instead of letting them collect dust on the shelf or throwing them away, consider donating old glasses to charities in your region.

285 million people in the world have impaired vision and not everyone has equal access to proper health care – your glasses may help the less fortunate.

Consider donating your old glasses
Consider donating your old glasses
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PRK/LASEK A brief guide to laser eye surgery on the eye surface
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