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LASIK: The Basics

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What is LASIK?

LASIK stands for Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis. It is a surgical procedure done on the eyes to improve vision and reduce a person’s need for glasses or contact lenses. In LASIK surgery, surgeons use lasers to cut a flap in the cornea (the clear covering of the front of the eye) and change the shape of the cornea, allowing the light to focus better so that patients can see without having to wear glasses or contact lenses.

How can I prepare for a LASIK consultation?

Before going in for a preoperative consultation, you should stop wearing your contact lenses for a week (2-3 weeks if you wear hard lenses) because they have an effect on the curvature and general health of the surface of the eye. LASIK requires that the front part of the eye go back to its natural position before taking final measurements for the laser prescription.

What tests will the doctor perform during a LASIK consultation?

In addition to taking the measurements for the laser prescription, the doctor will measure pupil size, corneal curvature, and shape, as well as the patient’s glasses prescription.

How common is LASIK?

The FDA estimates that over a half a million people undergo the procedure in the United States alone every year.

Why should I get LASIK?

LASIK can be a great option for patients who do not want to wear their glasses or contact lenses. Most people who wear glasses or contact lenses are good candidates for LASIK.

Is LASIK risky?

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks. You should talk to your doctor about them. However, the chance of a serious problem with a LASIK procedure is very low. The most common complication is a temporary increase in dry eye symptoms but those usually go away after a short period of time. Some patients will require an additional treatment for fine tuning (these are known as enhancement procedures or retreatments) but these are no longer very common with laser technology and treatment nomograms.

What happens during a LASIK procedure?

After patients are prepped for the procedure, they are given the opportunity to take a relaxing medicine (such as Valium) prior to proceeding. After about 20 minutes, they are then brought into the laser room for about 15 minutes. During this time, the laser treatments are done for no longer than 20 seconds at a time. The first part of the procedure involves making a corneal flap in the front part of the eye. If you think of the cornea is being about a half a millimeter in thickness, the first laser will create a thin plane in the front part of that front window or part of the eye at about a 15% depth. Once that flap is created, the patient is moved under the excimer laser. Then the flap is elevated so that the permanent layers of the cornea are exposed. The excimer laser then essentially etches a lens into the patient’s cornea. Once the excimer laser has done its treatment, the corneal flap is repositioned and the procedure is then complete. The procedure is done one eye at a time.

What if I move my eye during the procedure?

There is an eye tracker on the excimer laser that follows the eye as it has its small movements during the procedure, so there is no need to worry about moving your eye.

What is Surface Laser Ablation Treatment?

Surface Laser Ablation (also known as LASEK) is another corneal reshaping procedure that can be done for patients who want to see without glasses but are not candidates for LASIK. LASEK utilizes the same laser but instead of making a flap of tissue before reshaping the eye, they just reshape the surface of the eye. This is known to be the safest of all laser vision correction procedures and the results are indistinguishable from LASIK. The main difference is that the recovery is a bit slower than it is with LASIK. During this recovery time, patients may feel discomfort, pain, or blurriness before the bandage contact lens is removed.

What kind of post-operative care do I need?

After the operation, your doctor might recommend a pain reliever. If you experience severe pain or worsening of symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately. In terms of visits, you should see your doctor within the first 2 days after surgery and at regular intervals for at least the first 6 months. At the initial visit after surgery, your doctor will remove the eye shield and test and examine your eye. You may receive eye drops to prevent infection or inflammation or be told to use artificial tears to lubricate the eye. Your doctor may also advise against using lotions, creams, or make-up around the eye for up to two weeks and avoid swimming and strenuous activity for a month or two. Your vision might not completely stabilize until 3-6 months after surgery.

How long does it take to recover from LASIK?

The recovery process depends on the individual. You are likely to see improvement in vision within the first few days but may not fully recover with normal eyesight until 3-6 months after the procedure.

Do I have to wear special glasses while I’m recovering from LASIK?

You do need to protect your eyes so if you are engaging in activities where your eye may come into contact with something or someone, you are advised to wear safety goggles for about a month after surgery. For the first few days after surgery, you may want to wear sunglasses when going outside or eye shields when sleeping.

Do I need eye drops after LASIK?

You may receive eye drops to prevent infection or inflammation or be told to use artificial tears to lubricate the eye.

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