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Types of laser eye surgery

Laser eye surgery to reshape or correct the cornea may be an alternative way to correct vision problems for some people instead of wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Laser eye surgery may treat short-sight, long-sight and astigmatism using laser energy instead of traditional cutting instruments.

Any surgical procedure has possible risks as well as benefits, so make sure these are discussed with the eye surgeon before going ahead with a procedure.

You'll also need to understand recovery times - from a few days to a week - and the aftercare required.

Laser eye surgery to correct vision is not usually available on the NHS.

It is available privately for people over 21, and usually if their glasses prescription has stayed the same for 2 years or longer.

Eyes should also be healthy and free of retinal problems or corneal scars.

Make sure your surgeon is an ophthalmologist who specialises in laser eye surgery techniques.

Common laser eye surgery types include:

LASIK - laser in-situ keratomileusis

LASIK is the most common laser eye surgery procedure carried out in the UK. It can help with short-sightedness and long-sightedness - but not higher prescriptions. A flap is made in the outer layer of the cornea ready for reshaping.

Wavefront-guided LASIK

Wavefront-guided LASIK is a version of the LASIK procedure that also reduces natural irregularities in the eye.

PRK - photorefractive keratectomy

The PRK technique may be offered for lower prescriptions, with other techniques being a better option for higher prescriptions. A laser is used to reshape the cornea without a flap needing to be cut.

LASEK - laser epithelial keratomileusis

LASEK is similar to PRK, but the epithelium surface layer of the cornea is kept as a flap to help with quicker healing and reduce chances of complications.

Is refractive and laser eye surgery safe and effective?

Things can go wrong in laser eye surgery in 5% of cases, according to the NHS.

Problems after laser eye surgery include:

  • Infections
  • Dry eyes
  • Under-correction or over-correction of vision - either needing lenses to be worn or a follow-up laser eye surgery procedure.
  • Vision problems, such as hazy vision, called excess corneal haze, which may be temporary or longer lasting. This may need a follow-up procedure to correct it. Halo effects or glare may be seen in dim light which may interfere with driving at night.
  • Regression, where the corrective effects of laser eye surgery 'wear off' after a period of time needing a second procedure.
  • Flap damage, or lost flap, can be a complication of LASIK laser eye surgery with a risk of corneal damage.


Questions to ask your laser eye surgeon

There's a lot of information to take in when considering laser eye surgery. Here are some tips for questions to ask:

  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take to recover?
  • Are there any special risks in my case?
  • When can I go back to work or resume usual activities?
  • What happens if something goes wrong?
  • Do follow-up procedures or aftercare cost extra?


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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 28, 2016

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