LASIK Surgery: Long-Term Care
LASIK surgery is a type of refractive surgery used to correct vision problems like myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. These issues arise due to changes in the shape of the eye’s lens and cornea, which prevent a focused image from hitting the retina, the sensory apparatus that transmits visual images to the brain.
In this treatment, doctors use a specialized laser to reshape the cornea to completely or partially correct the problem. This quick, outpatient procedure is usually well-tolerated. If you’re considering this treatment, it’s important to understand what care afterward looks like; the more you know, the better off you’ll be.
Benefits of Surgery
Following LASIK surgery, what’s most important is that you carefully follow your doctor’s orders and recommendations. Most patients will be advised to take a couple of days off of work following the treatment. But what should you do to ensure you get the full benefit of treatment? Here are some tips:
- Don’t rub the eye. Especially in the early going, you’ll be tempted to rub the affected as it will likely feel dry, itchy, and as if something is stuck in there. Take a mild pain reliever and use eye drops to ease discomfort and do your best not to rub the eye as you can hinder healing or even cause infection.
- Wear your eye shield. At the first follow-up appointment, within two days of the procedure, your doctor will remove the protective, plastic eye shield to wear over eye. Follow their instructions; in most cases, they’ll tell you to wear this while sleeping for the first few days.
- Show up to appointments. Alongside the first follow up appointment, which occurs within 24 to 48 after the procedure, you’ll need to be back in several times over the course of the next six or so months to keep an eye on progress. Make sure you are diligent about these appointments and be communicative with your doctor if any issues arise.
- Keep an eye on symptoms. Following LASIK surgery, you may experience any of a number of symptoms, some of which may be cause for concern. These include glare, haloes, reduced night vision, and increased sensitivity to light. Some of these resolve on their own within a couple of months, but if you’re experiencing worsening vision or experiencing any other issues, be sure to let your doctor know.
- Hold off on physical activity. Wait at one to three days before starting up non-contact sports like jogging or working out. Basically, make sure you get your doctor’s OK before strapping on those gym shoes. Given that your eye will be healing, you’ll need to wait four or more weeks before resuming contact sports like boxing, other martial arts, or football.
- No swimming. To prevent infection or irritation of the healing eye, your doctor will tell you to avoid swimming and using hot tubs or whirlpools for one to two months following surgery.
- Avoid make-up. To prevent irritation and infection, your doctor will also tell you to avoid facial lotions, cremes, or makeup around the affected eye for up to two weeks or until you are cleared to do so.
Full recovery from LASIK surgery takes anywhere from three to six months. It’s a journey—and, in this time, your job is to be careful and communicative with your doctor. If anything seems off, don’t hesitate to call.
Approximately 99% of people who have LASIK regain full or close to full visual acuity, with over 90% walking away with 20/20 vision.
Possible Future Surgeries
This surgery is highly successful, and a vast majority of patients seeing near or complete recovery of visual activity, and over 95% completely satisfied with the procedure. This is in no small part due to advances in the lasers used, which are able to work from a careful and comprehensive scan of the eye.
While most side-effects—such as blurry vision and dry eyes—resolve, others such as glare and haloes around light you see may not. Occasionally, additional surgeries may be needed to take these problems or other complications on. These may include the following procedures.
LASIK corrects the shape of the cornea, offering what could be a permanent fix. That said, if you experience loss of visual acuity due to aging—or if results are not to your satisfaction—additional treatment may be recommended.
At the barest minimum, however, you need to wait three months (usually more) after the initial surgery before additional work can be considered. LASIK enhancement, a treatment that further corrects vision problems using the same methodology as the original, is an option that can be considered.
Notably, for every year after the original surgery, there’s a 1% increase in the chance that retreatment will be necessary. Depending on the health and thickness of the cornea—as well as other, underlying factors—a second surgery may not always be the best option.
Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK)
PRK is actually the precursor treatment to LASIK in that it was used for vision correction more widely before the development of the latter methods and technology.
While this approach also employs specialized laser to change the shape of the cornea, it doesn’t require cutting a flap into the cornea. As such, it can be used on thinner corneas and eyes that are excessively dry. This being the case, PRK can be indicated as a means to correct any lingering problems with visual acuity.
Cataract Surgery After LASIK
In some cases, those who’ve had LASIK surgery may develop cataract—a clouding of the lens (underneath the cornea). The typical approach to this is cataract surgery, in which an ophthalmologist replaces the cloudy lens with a prosthetic intraocular device (IOD).
Importantly, however, prior LASIK treatment can impact the approach the doctor takes and limit some of their options. Typically, patients would need to wait a bare minimum of six months after treatment before they can undergo other surgeries. If you’re have cataracts post-treatment, make sure to let your doctor know your medical history.
After recovery from LASIK surgery, most patients will be able to resume their regular routines, work, and behaviors. In almost all cases, lingering side-effects such as dry eyes and hazy vision, go away by six months.
Over the long term, though, this surgery can have a pretty broad impact. What can you expect and what sorts of adjustments should be made? Here’s a breakdown:
- Visit your doctor regularly. While most follow-up work after LASIK surgery is done within the first six months after treatment, you should plan on regularly seeing your eye doctor for additional examination or monitoring of any other vision issues. As noted, make sure to tell the surgeon if any alarming issues arise; certainly, contact them if your vision is getting worse.
- You may need glasses. Some procedures will not be able to correct all vision problems—though a majority do—so some patients may still need to wear glasses at least some of the time following surgery. In addition, those that experience loss of vision due to aging may find a need for a second treatment or vision corrections down the line.
- Realize savings. It’s important to note that, despite an initial outlay, many patients see savings over the long term when it comes to what they’re spending on vision correction. Costs of buying new glasses and contacts—on average, contact lens wearers pay about $600 a year—recur and can overtake the amount paid for LASIK within five to 10 years.
A Word From Verywell
The biggest takeaway when it comes to LASIK surgery is that this treatment is not only well-tolerated, it leads to very high patient satisfaction. An overwhelming majority of those who’ve undergone this procedure are happy with it. There’s something positively lifechanging about being free of dependence on eyeglasses or contacts to see clearly.
And while there may be some challenges during recovery—especially in the earlier going—these issues either resolve on their own or can be treated. As with any medical procedure, the more you know about it, the better off you’ll be.
If you’re thinking about LASIK surgery—or have already had it—be sure to talk to your doctor and ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. This treatment could be the key to sharper, more focused vision.