LASIK eye surgery, or “laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis,” is the most commonly performed laser eye surgery to treat myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism.
Like other types of refractive surgery, the LASIK procedure reshapes the cornea to enable light entering the eye to be properly focused onto the retina for clearer vision.
In most cases, laser eye surgery is pain-free and completed within 15 minutes for both eyes. The results — improved vision without eyeglasses or contact lenses — can usually be seen in as little as 24 hours.
HOW IS LASIK EYE SURGERY PERFORMED?
First, your eye surgeon uses either a mechanical surgical tool called a microkeratome or a femtosecond laser to create a thin, circular “flap” in the cornea. The surgeon then folds back the hinged flap to access the cornea (the stroma) and removes some corneal tissue using an excimer laser.
This highly specialized laser uses a cool ultraviolet light beam to remove (“ablate”) microscopic amounts of tissue from the cornea to reshape it so it more accurately focuses light on the retina for improved vision.
For nearsighted people, the goal is to flatten the cornea; with farsighted people, a steeper cornea is desired.
Excimer lasers also can correct astigmatism by smoothing an irregular cornea into a more normal shape. It is a misconception that LASIK cannot treat astigmatism.
After the laser reshapes the cornea, the flap is laid back in place, covering the area where the corneal tissue was removed. Then the cornea is allowed to heal naturally.
Laser eye surgery requires only topical anesthetic drops, and no bandages or stitches are required.
BEFORE LASIK EYE SURGERY
Your eye doctor will perform a thorough eye exam to ensure your eyes are healthy enough for the procedure. He or she will evaluate: the shape and thickness of your cornea; pupil size; refractive errors (myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism); as well as any other eye conditions.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING LASIK
Before your surgery begins, numbing eye drops are applied to your eye to prevent any discomfort during the procedure. Your doctor may also give you some medication to help you relax.
Your eye will be positioned under the laser, and an instrument called a lid speculum is used to keep your eyelids open.
The surgeon uses an ink marker to mark the cornea before creating the flap. A suction ring is applied to the front of your eye. It will prevent eye movements or loss of contact that could affect flap quality.
After the corneal flap is created, the surgeon then uses a computer to adjust the excimer laser for your particular prescription.
You will be asked to look at a target light for a short time while he or she watches your eye through a microscope as the laser sends pulses of light to your cornea.
The laser light pulses painlessly reshape the cornea, although you may feel some pressure on your eye. You’ll also hear a steady clicking sound while the laser is operating.
LASIK is performed on each eye separately, with each procedure taking only about five minutes.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER LASIK EYE SURGERY
Upon completion of your LASIK eye surgery, your surgeon will have you rest for a bit. You may feel a temporary burning or itching sensation immediately following the procedure. After a brief post-operative exam, someone can drive you home. (You cannot drive after LASIK until your eye doctor confirms your uncorrected vision meets the legal standard for driving.)
Laser eye surgery offers numerous benefits and can dramatically improve your quality of life. Most people achieve 20/20 vision or better after the surgery, but LASIK results do vary. Some people may achieve only 20/40 vision or less.
You may still need to wear glasses or contact lenses following laser vision correction, though your prescription level typically will be much lower than before.
While the procedure has an excellent safety profile, LASIK complications can occur and may include infection or night glare (starbursts or halos that are most noticeable when you’re viewing lights at night).
A small percentage of people will need a LASIK enhancement, or “touch up” procedure, a few months after the primary LASIK eye surgery.
You also may still need reading glasses once you reach your 40s. This is due to a normal age-related loss of near vision called presbyopia.
While LASIK eye surgery has a high success rate, it is important that you discuss all facets of the procedure with your surgeon prior to consenting to the surgery.