Many patients choose LASIK to get away from glasses or contacts. LASIK might not be for everyone, but if you’re reading this, you might be a good candidate for the procedure.
If you’ve got the green light for LASIK surgery and are wondering about getting back to normal vision, you might have some concerns. The good news is, there’s a lot you can do to improve your chances at full recovery, and much of it comes in those critical few weeks and months after the surgery.
What is LASIK?
Laser in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is a popular choice of laser eye surgery designed to eliminate the need for glasses. It’s replaced older surgeries where the laser targets the surface of the cornea.
The advantage lies in cutting an outer corneal flap, folding it back, and targeting precisely mapped inner cornea tissue. The outer flap can be folded back down and heal over the removed tissue. Healing begins within minutes, and the cornea takes on a new shape granting better focus.
The laser itself also plays a significant role. Those used in LASIK harness carefully focused bursts of ultraviolet light, which vapourize targeted cells but cause no damage to neighbouring cells. It’s called a “cool laser” because it doesn’t damage nearby cells like a conventional laser might.
What Complications Can Arise from LASIK?
Full recovery remains likely for an average of 95% of patients in over 300 peer-reviewed studies. But a minority of patients suffer complications from LASIK surgery. Most of these symptoms are temporary. No need to be scared, even if you’re not sure what to expect.
Temporary side-effects can include:
- Hazy or blurry vision
- Difficulty with night vision or driving at night
- Scratchiness, dryness and other symptoms of dry eye
- Glare, halos or starbursts around lights
- Light sensitivity
- Discomfort or pain
- Small pink or red patches on the white of the eye
In some cases where pre-existing eye conditions like dry eye bother a patient, LASIK can aggravate it. Your LASIK consultation doctor will have advised you on whether these pre-existing conditions and the treatment of them might be affected by the LASIK procedure.
Risks of Permanent Damage
In a small percentage of patients, there is a risk of more permanent damage. One serious condition is called corneal ectasia, which is a weakening and bulging of the cornea. Severe cases may need to be treated with a corneal transplant or implant.
Your consulting LASIK eye doctor can assess and minimize this risk efficiently, and that will be a big part of the discussion on your candidacy for LASIK. If you have thin corneas, your optometrist won’t give you a LASIK recommendation.
Settling Lingering Doubts
Health Canada often communicates with ophthalmologists about the risks of each medical device involved in newer procedures. That way, your aftercare advice is up to date — and so they can minimize the risk of reported side effects. Ask your surgeon and consulting optometrist if they can comment on the current risks of the specific laser technology they’ll be using during your surgery.
While the side-effects might seem severe, the procedure has been significantly refined since it first gained US FDA approval. Technological improvements to the laser equipment in use have translated to improved patient recovery.
That means the ball is partly in the patient’s court when it comes to maximizing full recovery chances. You can prepare for the surgery properly and practice solid aftercare.
How to Prepare for LASIK Surgery
To prepare for your LASIK treatment, follow the instructions you were given at your consultation and referral.
- Be sure you have a ride home. Anesthetics and pain medication make it unsafe to operate a vehicle.
- You will be given more specific instructions about recovering from your surgery, so arrange to keep a good record of that information.
The First Few Days After Your LASIK Surgery
- Your surgeon will place a protective shield over your eyes, to be worn while they heal.
- You should just relax or sleep on the day of the surgery. Keeping your eye closed may help it heal faster.
- Your eye may feel like there is something small lodged within for 3 or 4 days after surgery. But it is important not to rub your eye. Rubbing your eye could damage it.
- After the surgery, you may feel itching or burning in your eyes.
- Many patients take prescribed eye drops to reduce dryness and promote healing. Follow directions for taking eye drops carefully.
- Some patients see better as soon as the surgery is over, but the world may look blurry for a few days. Your return to work or your routine should take about 1 to 3 days.
- If side-effects persist beyond 3 days, follow a set of best practices for more long-term recovery.
- You might want to keep your optometrist or surgeon in the loop about the status of these side effects and adjust your aftercare habits to their advice.
- Follow-up care is a vital treatment and recovery. Be sure to attend all postoperative appointments, and call your eye doctor if you’re having severe problems.
Recovery from LASIK Beyond the First Few Days
Your eyes may look a little bloodshot for up to 3 weeks. LASIK surgery can cause small blood vessels in your eye to pop, so they can appear red for some time. Some people also find that they are sensitive to light or see starbursts or halos for 1 to 3 weeks after surgery.
Ask your doctor when it is okay to drive. It can vary from patient to patient. When in doubt, put off any trips in the car for a later time. Some things you can do range from week 1 of the postoperative period to 1 year after the procedure:
- Wear your eye shield at night for up to 2 weeks.
- You can shower or wash your hair the day after surgery. Keep water, soap, shampoo, hair spray, and shaving lotion out of your eye, especially for the first week.
- It’s especially important not to rub or put pressure on your eye for the first few days, but still very important to refrain from that for the rest of the 1st week.
- For 1 week, do not wear eye makeup. You may also want to avoid face cream or lotion.
- Wait at least 10 days after surgery to get your hair coloured or permed.
- You can exercise as long as you do not get sweat in your eyes. Avoid contact sports, such as boxing or football, for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. If you return to playing contact sports, consider wearing goggles or other eye protection.
- For 1 to 2 weeks, avoid swimming, hot tubs, gardening, and dusting.
- For some people, it takes 3 to 6 months to see as clearly as possible. But most people no longer need glasses or contact lenses.
- Wear sunglasses on bright days for at least 1 year after surgery.
Keep your Pre-Op and Post-Op Information
Be sure to record your test results and keep a list of the medication you take, well beyond the first year after surgery. It could become relevant one day. Some people develop cataracts later in life, and cataracts surgery is one example of a situation where you need your preop info.
Getting Back to Proper Vision
Faithfully following aftercare practices should dramatically improve your recovery time. Try to be positive and upbeat if side-effects persist beyond a few days. The technology and methods have been developing for some time. An experienced eye doctor only refers patients for LASIK when they seem like suitable candidates. You’re in good hands, whether your optometrist’s or your own!