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Does LASIK Hurt? Everything You’ve Ever Wondered, Answered

Dr. Jordan Marr

Written By:

Dr. Jordan Marr

Updated: 03 October 2022 •  

LASIK, or laser in-situ keratomileusis,[1] is a popular way of correcting vision. The procedure works on people with myopia (near-sighted), hyperopia (long-sighted), and astigmatism (unevenly shaped cornea).
 
When you have LASIK eye surgery, your cornea (the clear part of the front of your eye) is reshaped. This corrects how light focuses on your retina (the back layer of your eye) and gives you clearer vision.
 

Is LASIK eye surgery painful?

LASIK eye surgery is not painful.[2] Before the procedure, your surgeon will numb the front of your eyes. While you might feel pressure during the surgery, you will not feel any pain.
 
After having LASIK done, you might experience a slight itching or burning feeling in your eyes. This slight irritation usually goes away quickly.
 

So… why do people think that LASIK hurts?

As LASIK is a surgical procedure, many people worry that they will experience pain. However, this is not true. As you are anaesthetised during the procedure, LASIK is a pain-free process. The most that you will feel is a light pressure on your eye.
 

What does LASIK eye surgery involve?

When you get LASIK, your surgeon will change the shape of your cornea to make light focus better on your retina. Doing this will allow you to see more clearly.
 
Generally, the LASIK procedure [3] includes:
 

  • A preliminary screeningYour surgeon will test your eyes to ensure that your eyes are healthy and eligible for LASIK eye surgery.
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  • An anaestheticNext, your surgeon will use numbing eye drops to anaesthetise your eyes. You will also be given a sedative.
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  • Use of a femtosecond laserThis laser creates a thin, circular flap in your cornea. The flap is then folded back, which allows your surgeon to access the inner layers of your cornea.
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  • UV laserThis is used to reshape your cornea by removing some of the corneal tissue.
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  • Finishing upFinally, the flap of cornea will be laid back in place and your eye will heal on its own.

 
The process varies slightly depending on your refractive error (the vision problem being corrected). If you are myopic (near-sighted), then your cornea will be flattened. Whereas, if you are hyperopic (long-sighted), then your cornea will be steepened. In cases of astigmatism, the cornea will be made more spherical to even out how light goes through the eye.
 
While this may sound like a long process, LASIK surgery is very quick. It only takes a few minutes for the entire procedure. Of this time, the lasers are only in contact with your eye for seconds. As it is so fast, you can have both eyes done on the same day.
 

Can I be put completely under for laser eye surgery?

As LASIK is so quick, there is no need to be put under. You are anaesthetised during the surgery, so you won’t feel any pain. You will also be given a mild sedative, which will make you feel more relaxed and less nervous.
 
There is no need to worry about accidentally moving or blinking during the surgery. A lid speculum is a medical device used to gently hold your eyes open during LASIK. This will prevent your eyes from moving. The numbing drops will also get rid of your urge to blink.
 

Will my eyes hurt after LASIK?

While your eyes won’t hurt after LASIK, you may experience some discomfort. It is normal for your eyes to feel irritated after LASIK surgery. This might feel like a stinging sensation or as though you have an eyelash stuck in your eye. This is completely normal and often goes away after a day or so.
 

Post-LASIK recovery tips

Some tips to consider after having LASIK surgery include:
 

  • Avoid rubbing your eyesIf you experience some eye irritation, do not rub your eyes. This will allow your eyes to heal more quickly.
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  • Use your eye drops as recommendedAfter LASIK, your surgeon will provide you with eye drops to help your eyes recover and alleviate irritation. It is important to use these as often as recommended to ensure you recover as quickly as possible.
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  • Attend your follow-up appointments as scheduledThis will ensure you get the best possible results from your surgery.
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  • Wear sunglassesAfter the surgery, your eyes will be more sensitive to light. It is a good idea to try and avoid bright places. If you do need to go outside, you should wear sunglasses to protect yourself from glare. Some people also like to wear their sunglasses indoors if they are particularly sensitive to bright lights.
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  • Wear the goggles or eye shields provided to you while sleepingThis prevents you from rubbing or touching your eyes while sleeping. Usually, you only need to wear these for the first few nights (or as recommended).
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  • Get enough sleepWhen we are sleeping, our body has the chance to repair itself. After LASIK, it is also important to get enough rest so that your eyes can recover quickly.
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  • Avoid dirty environmentsAfter any surgery, it is important to keep the area clean to avoid infection. After LASIK, you should keep your eyes clean and avoid places with a lot of irritants in the air (such as smoke or dust).

 
Your vision will be clearer straight after the surgery; however, it can take up to 6 months [4] for your vision to completely stabilize. In this time, you may experience slight haziness while your eyes heal.
 

How do I know if I’m a candidate for LASIK eye surgery?

If you’re wondering whether LASIK is right for you, then you need to make sure you are eligible. Some requirements for LASIK [3] include:
 

  • Healthy eyesLASIK cannot be done on eyes with corneal diseases, as it may cause your vision to worsen.
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  • Stable prescriptionIf your prescription changes every time you have an eye test, then you may not be eligible for LASIK. It’s important to wait for your prescription to stabilize so that you can have long-lasting results from your surgery.
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  • Prescription limitsIf you have a very high prescription, then you may not be eligible. This is because you may not have enough corneal tissue to remove to correct your vision. Performing LASIK with a very high prescription increases your risk of visual complications.
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  • Sufficient corneal thicknessAs LASIK involves reshaping the cornea, it is important that you have enough corneal tissue for the procedure to be done. If you do not have a thick enough cornea, or if your cornea is very irregularly shaped (i.e. keratoconus), then you may not have good results.
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  • Pupil sizeIf your pupils are too large, then you may experience halos and light sensitivity.
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  • AgeMany surgeons will require you to be at least 18 years old to have LASIK eye surgery. This is because they need to ensure that your eyes have stopped growing.

 
It is also extremely important to have realistic expectations when having LASIK done. While most people achieve excellent results, there are risks of complications or an imperfect result.
 
If you are unsure of your eligibility for LASIK, it is best to see your eye health professional and discuss your options.
 

Are there any risks or side effects associated with LASIK eye surgery?

As with any surgery, LASIK is not perfect and sometimes you can experience side effects. Some side effects that you might face include:
 

  • Dry eyesLASIK can temporarily decrease your eye’s tear production. Usually this only lasts for a few months as the eyes are healing.
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  • Under- or over-correction of your vision If too much or too little tissue is removed from your cornea, then your vision will not be perfect. This may mean that you still need to wear glasses after surgery.
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  • Regression It is possible for your vision to slowly change back to your original prescription.
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  • Glare sensitivity and halosIt is common to experience a temporary sensitivity to light after having LASIK done.
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  • Healing problemsWhile unlikely, it is possible to develop an infection or further complications after your surgery.

 
 

References

  • “Laser In Situ Keratomileusis”, Stat Pearls.
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  • “6 Common Questions About LASIK Eye Surgery”, Penn Medicine.
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  • “LASIK Surgery: Is it right for you?”, Mayo Clinic.
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  • “LASIK Eye Surgery Recovery: What To Expect”, Web MD.
Dr. Jordan Marr

Written by:

Dr. Jordan Marr

Dr Jordan Marr has over 5 years of clinical and academic optometry experience and is a visual science editor for the Clinical and Refractive Optometry journal. He is licensed under the Optometry Board of Australia.
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