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Is LASIK or Refractive Laser Surgery Right for You?

Refractive surgeries are a group of minimally invasive surgical procedures that correct refractive error with the goal of eliminating the need for glasses or contact lenses.  These surgeries are effective in correcting nearsightedness, farsightedness, and moderate amounts of astigmatism, making them an option for people with a wide range of visual needs.  If you have ever wondered if you are a candidate for refractive surgery, continue reading to learn more about your choices. 

Refractive Laser Surgery: LASIK, PRK, and SMILE

LASIK is the most popular refractive surgery and has allowed millions of people to experience clear vision without relying on glasses or contacts.   During LASIK surgery, a surgeon carefully creates a flap in your corneal epithelium, the outermost layer of your ocular surface. The surgeon then uses an excimer laser to permanently reshape the cornea.  As a result, the cornea is left in a precise, predetermined shape that corrects for the eye’s original refractive error. After the cornea has been reshaped, the thin flap of corneal epithelium is gently replaced so the ocular surface can heal.  Many people who undergo LASIK are able to see clearly within a day or two. Like any surgery, there are a few risks, mostly entailing displacement of the corneal flap, but complications are not common. 

PRK is another refractive laser surgery that was the original predecessor to LASIK.  Like LASIK, PRK utilizes a laser to reshape the cornea. However, this traditional surgery completely removes the corneal epithelium instead of creating a flap.  The corneal epithelium will grow back on its own, typically within 7-10 days. For this reason, the recovery time is longer than LASIK and can be more uncomfortable.  But because there is no risk of flap displacement, PRK is an excellent choice for individuals who frequently participate in contact or combative sports. PRK may even be a corrective option for those who are not candidates for LASIK based on certain corneal measurements or for those with dry eye problems. 

One of the newest refractive surgical options is SMILE.  This procedure uses a laser to make a microscopic incision in the corneal surface, through which a small piece of corneal tissue is removed.  Like LASIK and PRK, the result is corneal reshaping that corrects refractive error. SMILE is minimally invasive, which means there is a smaller risk of postoperative complications. If you are considering one of these laser surgery options, your eye doctor or surgeon will make an appropriate recommendation based on specific measurements of your eyes and another individual factors.  

More Corrective Options

The choices for refractive procedures go beyond laser surgeries.  Intacs are a newer refractive option in which biocompatible implants that resemble contact lenses are placed within the cornea.  Intacs typically provide great results, but in the rare case of unsatisfactory outcomes, the implants can be surgically removed. Clear Lens Extraction is another corrective surgery, in which the crystalline lens within the eye is surgically removed and replaced with a lens that corrects for the eye’s natural refractive error.  Clear Lens Extraction is essentially cataract surgery… without the cataract. Both Intacs and Clear Lens Extraction can be excellent corrective options for those who are not good candidates for laser corrective surgeries.