This Is What It's Like to Get LASIK: Eye Surgeons Walk You Through the Procedure
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magine opening your eyes in the morning and seeing clearly. Playing sports without worrying about breaking your glasses. And taking in objects both near and far with acuity.
For people who’ve undergone LASIK—a procedure that uses a laser to reshape the cornea and correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism—these scenarios are possible. More than 90% of people who get LASIK have 20/20 vision or better post-procedure, according to the American Refractive Surgery Council.
LASIK, which stands for Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis, is a general term for laser eye surgery. There are multiple types of LASIK treatments that utilize different techniques and technologies, like the new iDesign® Refractive Studio, a tool that uses topography-integrated, wavefront-guided technology to generate a super-precise map of a patient’s unique “optical fingerprint”—that is, the shape of the eye, combined with other aspects of the eye’s anatomy—to deliver a highly personalized LASIK procedure.
The platform, which received FDA approval in early June, will be available in the U.S. later this year. It was also approved by the FDA for monovision LASIK, which corrects vision in patients over 40 years old who are nearsighted but also have trouble seeing up close.
According to studies, about 95% of patients see 20/20 within three months after having LASIK procedures. “Clinical data from an earlier version of iDesign technology has shown that many patients see 20/16 or better six months after undergoing laser vision correction,” says , Chief Medical Officer, Worldwide Vice President of Medical and Clinical Affairs, Johnson & Johnson Vision.
Considering the procedure? Here’s what you can expect before, during and after laser eye surgery with the iDesign Refractive Studio.
What to Expect Before LASIK Surgery
The procedure starts with an iDesign Refractive Studio analysis. In a single, three-second scan, the machine “reads” both eyes, measuring everything from how light travels inside the eye to variations in the cornea’s curvature and elevation. The scan produces 27 different maps of the cornea’s surface, which help direct the laser during treatment.
“We use this data to create guided, step-by-step treatment maps, which is very unique. It’s a technique Johnson & Johnson has patented,” says, Medical Director Refractive, Johnson & Johnson Vision, and Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Virginia. “We have the ability to compensate for hills and bumps on the eye’s surface, which makes for very accurate placement with the laser.”
Post-scan, your ophthalmologist will manually check your eyes, dilating them to get a better picture of your general eye health. (LASIK is contraindicated for patients with certain conditions, like glaucoma or diabetes.) Once your ophthalmologist determines that you are a candidate for the procedure, the surgery can be scheduled.
If you wear contact lenses, which can change the shape of your eye, it is very important to stop wearing them two to four weeks prior to your pre-surgical exam and treatment, so your doctor can obtain a stable eye measurement. Patients considering monovision LASIK should also plan to undergo a one-week contact lens trial with their monovision prescription to evaluate their vision during this period and see if they can tolerate the surgery.
What to Expect During LASIK Surgery
Let’s start by debunking some common myths: LASIK doesn’t hurt, and it doesn’t require a long recovery. “Thanks to the numbing drops used on your eyes, it’s a painless procedure—you just feel pressure—that affords rapid visual rehabilitation, which is about six weeks for most patients," Dr. Odrich says.
After getting the numbing eye drops, you’ll be instructed to try to keep both eyes open without squinting (a small device will be used to help keep them from shutting) and your head still, while looking at a “fixation light” or target, explains Dr. Odrich. Using the map generated by iDesign as a guide, the doctor will cut a thin “flap” in your cornea with a laser and also use it to reshape the cornea. If you’re nearsighted, your cornea will be flattened; if you’re farsighted, your cornea will be made steeper.
“The little flap then gets set back in place,” says Dr. Odrich, adding that the surgery takes between five and nine minutes per eye. “You basically have the equivalent of a paper cut. We tell people to close their eyes and sleep for eight hours, and it heals during that time.”
What to Expect After LASIK Surgery
When you open your eyes after surgery, your vision won’t be perfect at first—it will likely be blurry, so make sure to bring a designated driver with you on the day of surgery. You may also feel moderate burning or stinging, mild to moderate discomfort typically described as “a sandy sensation,” and you may have sensitivity to light lasting up to three days after surgery.
Resting with your eyes closed can “pretty much help alleviate” your symptoms, says Dr. Talamo, and you can also consider taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory. To promote healing and minimize the risk of infection, it's also important to avoid rubbing your eyes after surgery.
You’ll most likely see your doctor 24 hours after surgery for a checkup. You may have mild dryness in your eyes at this visit, and in the days or weeks following the procedure, your eyes may need more time to adjust to the changes and to things like dim light at night, so consider avoiding visually-demanding situations like driving. It may take several weeks for your eyes to fully demonstrate the effectiveness of the surgery.
“I tell patients it may take four to six weeks for vision to fully return,” says Dr. Talamo, adding that most people can function normally within a day after surgery. And be sure to check with your doctor before doing things like wearing eye makeup or going swimming.
Some people may need to use a topical steroid medication after surgery to control inflammation. If that's you, your doctor will monitor you for any side effects, including glaucoma and cataract formation.
While people over 45 may still need reading glasses, most patients will not require prescription glasses or contacts—paving the way for those clear-eyed mornings.