Person undergoing laser eye surgery

What to Know About Laser Eye Surgery

Laser Eye Surgery

Blurry vision can really impact your day-to-day activities, from driving to working out to reading your emails. Glasses can get in the way, fog up, or need to be removed for some activities and contacts aren’t a much better option.

Most eye problems are an issue with the way the eye focuses an image on the retina, but issues like this can be resolved with laser eye surgery.

What Is Laser Eye Surgery?

Laser eye surgery is the most commonly practiced procedure to correct vision problems and the procedure is relatively straightforward. The procedure itself is incredibly short and you’ll notice a difference in your vision in the hours following laser eye surgery.

Vision problems that can be corrected by laser eye surgery include near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism (distorted vision when looking at objects at any distance). Recently, laser eye surgery has also been used to correct presbyopia, an inability to focus on nearby objects, which is a normal part of getting older.

The Goal of Laser Eye Surgery

The purpose of laser eye surgery is quite simple: to correct a patient’s vision so they no longer need to rely on glasses or contact lenses. The effects of laser eye surgery should last several years, but there are cases (especially if a patient has the surgery at a young age) where they may need surgery again in the future or will need to eventually return to glasses or contact lenses.

How Does Laser Eye Surgery Work?

A surgeon uses a laser device to make permanent changes to the shape of the cornea. Altering the shape of the cornea can correct mild to moderate vision issues for most people. Reshaping the cornea means that light enters the eye in a different way and brings images on the retina into better focus.

The laser used in the procedure is guided by a computer and creates a beam of ultraviolet light to vaporize tissue.

Types of Laser Eye Surgery

Three common procedures for laser eye surgery are:

Photo-Refractive Keratectomy (PRK)

PRK was introduced in the early 90s. The surgeon creates an incision to remove the epithelial covering (outer layer) of the cornea and a laser beam vaporizes tiny amounts of tissue under the cornea’s surface.

The procedure removes enough tissue to reshape the cornea in a way that corrects vision. The epithelial covering that was removed regenerates itself in a few days and you’ll feel like yourself in no time. The expected healing duration for PRK is about a week.

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Laser Assisted in situ Keratomileusis (LASIK)

LASIK is a bit more complicated than PRK. The surgeon cuts a flap in the cornea and lifts it up. A computer-guided laser removes calculated amounts of tissue from inside the cornea. After, the flap is put back in place and a contact lens is put over the cornea to act as a Band-Aid.

With LASIK, the eye heals quicker than with PRK and also has less post-operative pain. There are a few sub-types of LASIK: Intra-LASIK, Wavefront LASIK, and Epi-LASIK. If you opt for LASIK, your surgeon will advise which is best for you.

Laser Assisted Sub-Epithelial Keratectomy LASEK

LASEK is a variation of PRK and LASIK. The surgeon cuts the outer layer of the cornea and uses alcohol to loosen and lift the cornea in a single layer. The laser beam is directed at tissue under the epithelium (like PRK). When the laser procedure is finished, the epithelium is put back in place.

LASEK is best suited to vision problems that require minor correction. The healing duration is about two weeks.

How Much Does Laser Eye Surgery Cost?

The average cost of LASIK surgery in the United States in 2019 was $2,246 per eye. Costs generally range from $1,000 to $3,000 per eye. The difference in cost can be credited to several factors:

  • The type of surgery that is recommended for your particular situation
  • Vision prescription strength
  • Laser technology required (it’s more expensive to have procedures that use the latest technology or require more than one laser)
  • Surgeon experience
  • Cost per eye
  • A package deal versus individual costs. Ask what is included in the price.

If cash flow is a concern, ask if the provider has any offers or payment/financing options that you can take advantage of. During business lulls, you can get a pretty good deal on laser eye surgery through group buy sites, but make sure you do your research to find a reputable clinic before punching in your credit card information.

If you’re covered by insurance, you can likely use some of your benefits to offset part of the cost through your vision benefits or health care spending account.

Post-Laser Eye Surgery Care

Following any surgery, be sure to follow your surgeon’s aftercare instructions. These generally include the following instructions:

  • Don’t rub your eyes, especially the first week after surgery. You will be given goggles or eye shields before you leave the surgery clinic. Wear them while you sleep to avoid touching your eyes at night.
  • Follow the instructions for the prescribed eye drops. There will be a few different types; take them as prescribed and get someone to help you if you’re having issues administering the drops yourself.
  • Wash your hands frequently to minimize infection.
  • Sleep as much as possible. Resting your eyes is important, it’s when your body gets a chance to mend itself.
  • Stay in clean environments and avoid smoky/dusty rooms.
  • Wear sunglasses and avoid extreme levels of sunlight in the weeks following surgery.
  • Avoid body contact sports for one month following surgery. Do not swim for at least two weeks.
  • Don’t wear makeup for at least a week.

Your vision will fluctuate the first few days following surgery (halos around lights), but this is not permanent. If you follow proper aftercare practices, you’ll be out enjoying a crystal-clear world sooner than you expect. You may even wish you had gotten laser eye surgery sooner.

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