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Laser eye surgery reshapes the cornea, the front surface of the eye, to correct nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and astigmatism. Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is one of the most common types of refractive eye surgeries performed today. The decreased dependence on glasses and contact lenses entices hundreds of thousands of Americans to get LASIK every year. The thought of having surgery on your eyes can be intimidating though. Is LASIK eye surgery painful? Is there a painful price one must pay for clear vision? The answer is: not really!
Why Do People Think that LASIK Hurts?
You may have heard horror stories about laser eye surgery, which leads people to think that LASIK is painful. That’s an urban legend! How did the idea ever come about then? Well, while corneal refractive surgery may have been painful at one point in time, it is no longer. Refractive surgical techniques have been evolving since the 1960s. LASIK wasn’t even approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) until 1999, so it’s been a long time coming. Procedures that were used prior to the advent of LASIK did, in fact, involve some degree of discomfort, so it’s no wonder people ask, does laser eye surgery hurt?
Anesthesia and Sedation During LASIK Eye Surgery
In general, pain during surgery can be caused by a lack of anesthetic. Does eye surgery hurt? It depends on the type of surgery performed and how well the patient is anesthetized.
So, is LASIK painful? How much does LASIK hurt? What are the pros and cons of LASIK surgery? You’ll be comforted to hear that pain is not usually an issue with LASIK. Very little tissue is being operated on, and although the cornea is sensitive, medications are used to optimize patient comfort.
Anesthetic Eye Drops
Some eye surgeries require anesthesia of the whole body, while LASIK only requires anesthesia of the eyes. Because very little tissue is manipulated during surgery, the local anesthetic can be applied topically and provide excellent pain control. Numbing eye drops are the standard of care for Lasik eye surgery.
A sedative is often given by mouth to take the edge off during the procedure. That means you’ll be awake for the entire surgery, which is important, as you’ll be asked to look at a target light throughout the process, but the procedure itself is relatively comfortable.
During the Lasik procedure, the patient is required to focus on a flashing light at all times, to ensure the laser treatment is delivered precisely to the eye. General anesthesia would make this extremely difficult and is typically always avoided.
If It Doesn’t Hurt, then How Uncomfortable Is LASIK?
So, just how painful is LASIK? With the use of topical numbing drops and oral sedation, it shouldn’t be painful at all.
So is LASIK painless altogether? There will still be some awareness and sensation during the procedure while it's being performed. A device is used to gently hold the eyelids open and prevent blinking during surgery, which may cause a pressure sensation. The eye is kept lubricated throughout the process to prevent dryness and discomfort. You will feel pressure while the flap is being created on the cornea, but this shouldn’t cause any discomfort due to the numbing drops. The laser treatment itself is not painful either. Some people find the sound of the laser to be anxiety-provoking, but the oral sedative helps to alleviate that.
Does LASIK Hurt After Surgery?
If there is no pain during LASIK, does laser eye surgery hurt after it’s been performed? It is normal to have some discomfort the first couple of hours immediately following your treatment. Patients will be given oral pain medication to help minimize discomfort. With the oral sedative still in your system, most patients go home and sleep through those first couple of hours without much LASIK pain after surgery.
Eye pain after LASIK is often due to postoperative inflammation. You will be using eye drops such as antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to minimize inflammation and infection during the healing process. How long do eyes hurt after LASIK? The good news is, if you do have some discomfort, it should subside within the first few hours following your procedure. It is not normal to have severe pain after LASIK, so be sure to contact your doctor if you do.
Post-LASIK Eye Care Tips
Is LASIK recovery painful? It doesn't have to be, just follow these dos and don'ts!
What to Do?
- Keep your eyes closed, and try to sleep for the first several hours immediately following your surgery;
- Get plenty of rest to allow the eyes to heal;
- Wear dark sunglasses to protect against light sensitivity;
- Avoid dusty and smoky environments or wear goggles in these settings;
- Wear your protective eye shield while sleeping for the first 5 nights to avoid any accidental eye rubbing;
- Use preservative-free artificial tears frequently to keep the eyes lubricated for up to two weeks post-surgery;
- Take your medications exactly as prescribed;
- Keep your follow-up appointments, regardless of how you’re feeling.
What Not to Do?
- Rub your eyes;
- Skip your medications or use them more than prescribed;
- Wear makeup or lotion around the eyes until your doctor says it’s ok;
- Participate in contact sports until you’re cleared to do so;
- Get in a pool, hot tub, or sauna until you’ve been advised that it’s safe;
- Drive, especially at night, until you feel comfortable;
- Skip your appointments.
Side Effects of LASIK Surgery
Common side effects of LASIK while healing include:
- Light sensitivity
Unexpected complications of LASIK include:
- Under-correction or over-correction
- Worsening vision
- Corneal flap issues
- Corneal ectasia.
Severe pain after LASIK could signal that there is a complication, so be sure to call your doctor if you experience this.
Is LASIK painful? Hopefully, you realize by now that the answer is no. The LASIK procedure is a quick and painless outpatient procedure that takes about 10 minutes per eye and results in vastly improved vision. LASIK is one of the most commonly performed refractive surgeries today. This laser vision correction surgery treats myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism to decrease, and often, eliminate the need for glasses. Hundreds of thousands of people get LASIK every year in the US and don’t look back.
If you’re still wondering, "Is laser eye surgery painful?", come in for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with an eye doctor. During your visit, we will perform all the necessary measurements to ensure that surgery is a safe option for you. To schedule a consultation please call our office at 312-444-1111.