What to expect before, during, and after surgery will vary from surgeon to surgeon and patient to patient. It is important that you bring up any questions that you may have with your surgeon prior to surgery. This information is compiled from questions that are commonly asked by patients ahead of laser eye surgery.
Before Laser Eye Surgery
Prior to your eye surgery, you will undergo several tests to make sure you are a good candidate for the procedure.
- The shape and thickness of your cornea will be measured as, if it is determined that you have thin corneas, there is a risk that too much corneal tissue could be removed during LASIK. If this is the case you may be offered an alternative treatment such as PRK or LASEK.
- Your pupil size will also be measured. People with large pupils are not suitable for LASIK as it can result in permanent visual abnormalities such as starbursts, halos, multiples images and loss of contrast sensitivity at night.
- The natural moistness of your eyes will also be noted so that precautions can be taken to avoid dry eye following the surgery.
- Finally, your eyes’ prescription will be tested several times prior to the procedure to ensure best possible visual outcomes.
- Before undergoing these tests your doctor will ask you to stop wearing contact lenses and switch to glasses. Contact lenses change the shape of your cornea making it difficult to take accurate measurements so, depending on the type of contact lens you routinely wear you will need to remove them up to 4 weeks prior to your evaluation.
- To ensure that you receive the best possible outcomes your ophthalmologist will also need to take a full medical history including any current or historical problems with your eyes such as glaucoma or past injuries. You should also make them aware of any medications you are taking, and any allergies you have.
- You should ask any questions you may have about the procedure and the postoperative period. You should feel entirely comfortable with the procedure so the surgeon will be happy to answer questions and address any concerns.
- On the day of surgery, more tests will be conducted to check that there have been no changes since your initial evaluation.
The days leading up to Laser Eye Surgery
Starting the day before the procedure, you should stop wearing eye make-up and perfume and stop applying creams or moisturisers to your face. Such products can increase the risk of infection as residue can build up in the eyelashes. To this end your surgeon will ask you to thoroughly clean your lashes immediately before the surgery. You should also refrain from wearing any hair bands or clips as your head will need to be carefully positioned on a headrest.
As laser eye surgery is not performed under general anaesthetic, you are allowed to eat before the procedure, but it is probably best not to eat a large meal. You are likely to be given a mild sedative to help you relax and, as such, you will not be permitted to drive yourself home. You should therefore make prior arrangements for someone to drive you to and pick you up from the appointment.
During Laser Eye Surgery
In the majority of cases, you will need to be fully awake while receiving the laser treatment. Your eye will be anaesthetised with eye drops and your eyelids kept apart using a device called a speculum. For the duration of the procedure you will lie on a reclining chair with the laser positioned above you.
To begin the procedure, your surgeon will need to create a small flap in the cornea to access the eye fully. This will be done using either a small blade called a microkeratome or a laser. During this phase of the surgery you may feel some slight discomfort and pressure but it should pass quickly.
The primary reason you are kept awake is that you will be asked to stare at a light. The surgeon can carry out the procedure more easily if you fix your eyes on a particular object, preventing eye movements. Rest assured that the laser will follow your eye’s movements, but errors are much less likely when you are still. Once your eye is in position the laser phase of the treatment will begin.
You will experience no pain during the surgery, but there is no question that it is strange to feel someone working on your eyes. You may feel a slight sensation of pressure and you will hear ticking noises from the laser. In addition some people have reported the faint smell of burning, this is perfectly normal and should only last a matter of seconds. The laser will have been pre-programmed to remove exactly the right amount of tissue to correct your refractive error. As you might expect your vision may become slightly blurry and hazy during surgery whilst the operation takes place.
Even though it will feel odd, the process is very fast. Correcting refractive errors or replacing the lenses of the eyes take only a few minutes per eye, so the actual surgery usually lasts no more than 30 minutes.
How Long Does Laser Eye Surgery Take?
The time taken to get you ready for the operation is usually around 30-45 minutes, however the laser session itself only lasts up to 1 minute per eye. During this time you will be awake but comfortable. Vision is usually clearer within minutes after treatment.
After Eye Surgery
To prevent any superficial damage caused by rubbing for example, the eyes are sometimes covered with a special lens known as a ‘contact lens bandage.’ After laser surgeries, the new flap that has been cut has to be held in place, so it is vital that you not rub your eyes, even if your eyes itch or burn. Protective eyewear is usually provided so that you do not rub your eyes while sleeping. You may have to wear this protective shield for up to a month.
If you experience pain, you can take medication to ease your discomfort. Your surgeon will recommend medications for you should you require any to ease any discomfort.
If you experience any severe pain or if your eyesight appears to be deteriorating significantly following the surgery you should contact your surgeon immediately. However, don’t be too concerned if your quality of eyesight fluctuates during the first months following the surgery, this is entirely normal and it will typically stabilise between three and six months. You will be able to discuss any concerns you have with your surgeon who will schedule a follow-up appointment within 48 hours of the procedure and periodically thereafter for up to six months.
After laser eye surgery, you should not swim, use hot tubs or submerge yourself in water for as long as eight weeks. During this period, you should also take care not to take part in contact sports or wear eye make-up.
You will be given eye drops to use regularly to keep your eyes moist as they heal. It is very important to follow the instructions and use the drops regularly. They prevent infection and keep inflammation to a minimum. Do not use any eye drops except those provided by your surgeon.