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Laser eye surgery
Medically reviewed by Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts on 27 March 2023.
As an alternative to wearable vision solutions such as contact lenses or glasses, laser eye surgery like LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) offers long term vision correction. LASIK is available as a treatment for common vision prescriptions such as myopia, hyperopia or astigmatism.
Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts says: “LASIK eye surgery is only one option for refractive eye surgery that offers a long-term solution to improve some of the most common vision problems. As with any form of surgery, there are always certain risks to take into account. Patients should consider the advice of an appropriate eye specialist before making a decision.”
Is LASIK free in the UK?
LASIK eye surgery or another form of refractive surgery will only be available for free to a very small number of qualifying UK patients via the NHS. For those who are eligible for refractive surgery but do not qualify for free treatment, there are options available that reflect the LASIK eye surgery UK cost for private patients. While the cost of LASIK and other refractive surgery isn’t usually covered by private health insurance in the UK either, getting a private referral is relatively simple.
The cost of LASIK varies between clinics, and other alternative procedures such as laser-assisted epithelial keratomileusis (LASEK), photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), transepithelial photorefractive keratectomy (TransPRK) or corneal crosslinking (CXL) may come at different price points again.
Typically in the UK, private LASIK surgery starts from around £3,500 for both eyes.
Is LASIK eye surgery safe?
LASIK is the name given to the most common form of laser vision correction globally, but there are other varieties available too. With over 40,000,000 procedures completed since the first treatment was performed in 1991, LASIK is widely believed to be one of the safest and most minimally invasive forms of laser eye surgery.
The procedure involves the use of lasers to gently and painlessly remove a thin layer at the front of the cornea, which is then reshaped and reattached using specialist tools and materials. The laser can create the layer in fewer than 10 seconds and the procedure can be completed without general anaesthetic.
The success rate of LASIK eye surgery is incredibly high and there are few cases of long-term health complications from LASIK surgery.
What are the common LASIK eye surgery risks?
The risks of LASIK eye surgery are low and relatively low impact. Risks are factors that need to be considered regardless. For fewer than 10% of LASIK patients, a second operation might be required due to under-correction or over-correction of vision.
On rare occasions, damage to the cornea during the procedure may cause long-term vision loss. While this risk needs to be considered, the risk is low. When successful, the long-term risk of damage from LASIK is comparable to the risks associated with wearing contact lenses. Plus, unlike a corneal transplant, LASIK uses your body’s original cornea, so the body is less likely to reject the changes.
All types of non-urgent laser eye surgery are rarely covered by the NHS. The patient is responsible for finding a reputable surgery and funding the operation. There are many clinics that offer laser eye surgery like LASIK, but the responsibility is on the individual to ensure that they make the right choice and that the surgeon they choose is properly qualified.
To do so, make sure that the surgeon you choose is fully licensed to carry out the surgery and that they are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). Surgeons who have been accredited with the relevant certificate in laser refractive surgery (Cert LRS) and any other necessary credentials will be registered on the Royal College of Ophthalmologists’s website or the General Medical Council’s website.
What can patients expect from LASIK eye surgery recovery time?
After LASIK surgery, you can expect to return to normal activities by the next day. This is comparatively fast to other similar procedures, which may take a few weeks. Full recovery can be expected after three months after the surgery when vision should have fully stabilised.
The surgical procedure itself takes around 20-30 minutes in the laser room, with no more than 5-10 minutes expected to complete each eye. However, when planning for LASIK eye surgery, it is best to reserve between 2-3 hours for the entire hospital/clinic visit, from arrival to being discharged.
As the contact with the laser itself is very brief (around 10 seconds), the majority of the work includes consultation, preparation, waiting time and aftercare.
Directly after the procedure, patients can go home as soon as they feel ready. However, they are not permitted to drive themselves until at least 24 hours has passed after the surgery. They will usually be given a protective shield to wear over the eyes at night for one week.
The effects of LASIK and other refractive eye surgeries should last for many years. However, age-related long-sightedness (presbyopia) or visually obstructive cataracts may still develop over time.
What does LASIK aftercare entail?
Aftercare is an important step to ensure the success of LASIK surgery. To help the healing process, patients are prescribed antibiotics and anti-inflammatory eye drops as well standard eye drops and artificial tears for comfort. These should be used according to the regimen prescribed by your surgeon or ophthalmologist.
Importantly, LASIK patients are strongly advised against swimming for at least a week after the treatment. This recommendation is for the same reason that wearing contact lenses to swim is such a serious risk. Some surgeons may even recommend avoiding contact sports for up to a month as well.
Additional aftercare may be required to address some mild common side-effects following the surgery, including:
- dry eyes
- blurred vision (vision haze)
- glare from lights (sometimes experienced as halos)
- bloodshot eyes
These side-effect symptoms are usually only experienced in the short-term, but can be managed with a selection of eye care products and treatments until they go away completely. If they become worse or persist past the first few weeks, you should always consult an eye care professional for advice.