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Does Laser Eye Surgery Hurt?

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An eye doctor holds a model of the eye during a laser eye surgery consultation with a patient.

For many, the thought of undergoing any surgery—much less surgery on something as sensitive as the eyes—can be daunting. One of the most common questions patients consider for vision correction with laser eye surgery is, “Does it hurt?” 

Laser eye surgery is usually painless, with mild discomfort during recovery. Understanding laser eye surgery and the discomfort associated with it is crucial for those on the fence about having the procedure. Your eye doctor can help you set expectations before the surgery and co-manage your eye health afterward. 

What Is Laser Eye Surgery?

Laser eye surgery is designed to correct vision issues, reducing the dependency on glasses or contact lenses. Vision issues that laser eye surgery can correct include the following refractive errors:

  • Nearsightedness: Blurry distant vision
  • Farsightedness: Blurry close-up vision
  • Astigmatism: Blurry vision at any distance
  • Presbyopia: Loss of near vision with age

Candidacy for Laser Eye Surgery

To be a candidate for laser eye surgery:

  • You must be 18 years or older
  • Have healthy eyes with no severe eye conditions, infection, or injury
  • Your prescription must be within certain limits
  • Your vision must be stable

Types of Laser Eye Surgery

Types of laser eye surgery include LASIK, PRK, and a newer technique called SMILE. Each vary slightly in approach, but all aim to reshape the cornea and improve vision.

LASIK (Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis)

LASIK is the most commonly performed type of laser eye surgery. It involves creating a thin flap in the cornea using a laser. This allows for reshaping the underlying corneal tissue with a computer-guided laser. Once the procedure is complete, the flap goes back. 

PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy)

Unlike LASIK, PRK doesn’t involve creating a corneal flap. Instead, it involves removing the cornea’s surface layer before reshaping the underlying tissue with a computer-guided laser. This procedure is typically recommended for unsuitable candidates for LASIK.

SMILE (Small Incision Lenticule Extraction)

SMILE is a minimally invasive procedure used to correct vision by reshaping the cornea. Unlike LASIK, which involves creating a corneal flap, and PRK, which removes the outer surface layer of the cornea, SMILE uses a femtosecond laser to create a small, lens-shaped piece of tissue (lenticule) inside the cornea, which is then removed through a tiny incision.

Laser Eye Surgery Procedure

The laser eye surgery procedure involves the following:

  • Preparation: Your eye is cleaned and numbed with topical anesthetic drops. A device keeps your eyelids open during the procedure. 
  • Corneal flap creation (LASIK): A precise laser creates a thin flap in the cornea to lift it. 
  • Reshaping the cornea: A laser removes corneal tissue based on predetermined measurements to correct vision.
  • Finishing touches: The corneal flap is repositioned (in LASIK), and the surgery concludes.

Does Laser Eye Surgery Hurt?

There’s a belief that laser eye surgery is painful, but the reality is much less scary. During surgery, patients are awake but under local anesthesia, which helps make the procedure more comfortable. Anesthetic drops effectively numb the surface, making discomfort minimal. The sensation can feel like slight pressure on the eye or mild discomfort.

Every patient’s experience with laser eye surgery is unique, and factors such as personal tolerance, the specific type of surgery, and individual healing processes affect the level of discomfort experienced.

After the procedure, you may experience itchiness or a gritty or scratchy feeling. You can have mild pain or discomfort after your laser eye surgery as the numbing wears off. Your eye doctor can provide clear guidance on what to expect and how to manage post-surgery discomfort.

Eye pain after laser eye surgery isn’t normal and can indicate an infection or dislodged corneal flap. If you experience severe pain after laser eye surgery, contact your eye doctor immediately. 

Managing Discomfort After Laser Eye Surgery

A woman with a patch over her right eye visiting her eye doctor for a follow-up appointment after laser eye surgery

Following post-surgery instructions is crucial to prevent complications:

  • A follow-up appointment 24 to 48 hours after laser eye surgery
  • Using prescribed eye drops to prevent infection and inflammation
  • Avoiding rubbing your eyes
  • Wearing protective eyewear while you sleep
  • Getting enough rest
  • Wearing sunglasses

How Your Eye Doctor Can Help

Imagine the freedom after laser eye surgery. You may no longer need glasses or contact lenses with the vast improvement in the quality of your vision and, consequently, your quality of life. 

However, it’s important to have realistic expectations from laser eye surgery. Because the eyes continue to change, you may require reading glasses or prescription glasses or contacts later. Your eye doctor can help co-manage your eye health based on your changing vision needs. 

Support to Improve Your Vision

For those contemplating laser eye surgery, the worries about potential pain should not be a deterrent. Pain during and after the procedure and discomfort can be effectively managed with rest, staying in low light settings, using preservative-free artificial tears, and over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol or Advil. Pain from LASIK and SMILE typically only lasts around 1-2 days, and the vision-altering benefits can outweigh the brief and minor discomforts that accompany the surgery.

Are you ready to see the world more clearly? Book a consultation with ERC Optometry to explore your options and set realistic expectations for what laser eye surgery can do for you. 

Written by Eye Rejuvenation Center

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