What you can expect

Before the procedure

Long-term results from LASIK tend to be best in people who are carefully evaluated before surgery to ensure that they are good candidates for the procedure. Your eye doctor will ask about your medical and surgical history and give you a comprehensive eye examination.

In the eye examination, your doctor will evaluate your vision and look for signs of eye infections, inflammation, dry eyes, large eye pupils, high eye pressure and other eye-health conditions. He or she will also measure your cornea, noting the shape, contour, thickness and any irregularities. This helps your doctor assess whether you can undergo the procedure safely.

Your eye doctor also evaluates which areas of your cornea need reshaping. He or she determines the precise amount of tissue to remove from your cornea. Doctors generally use wavefront-guided technology to evaluate your eye in detail before LASIK surgery. In this test, a scanner creates a highly detailed chart, similar to a topographic map, of your eye. The more detailed the measurements, the more accurate your eye doctor can be in removing corneal tissue.

If you wear contact lenses, which can change the shape of your cornea, you'll need to completely stop wearing them and wear only your glasses for at least a few weeks before your evaluation and surgery. Your doctor will provide specific guidelines depending on your situation and how long you've been a contact lens wearer.

Before surgery, your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of LASIK, what to expect before and after surgery, and any questions you may have.

Steps you can take to prepare for surgery include:

  • Know what surgery may cost you. LASIK surgery is usually considered elective surgery, so most insurance companies won't cover the cost of the surgery. Be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for your expenses.
  • Arrange for a ride home. You'll need to have someone drive you to and from your place of surgery. Immediately after surgery, you might still feel the effects of medicine given to you before surgery, and your vision may be blurry.
  • Skip the eye makeup. Don't use eye makeup, cream, perfumes or lotions on the day before and the day of your surgery. Your doctor may also instruct you to clean your eyelashes daily or more often in the days leading up to surgery, to remove debris and minimize your risk of infection.

During the procedure

LASIK surgery is usually completed in 30 minutes or less. During the procedure, you lie on your back in a reclining chair. You may be given medicine to help you relax. After numbing drops are placed in your eye, your doctor uses an instrument to hold your eyelids open.

A suction ring placed on your eye just before cutting the corneal flap may cause a feeling of pressure, and your vision may dim a little.

Your eye surgeon uses a small blade or cutting laser to cut a small hinged flap away from the front of your eye. Folding back the flap allows your doctor to access the part of your cornea to be reshaped.

Using a programmed laser, your eye surgeon reshapes parts of your cornea. With each pulse of the laser beam, a tiny amount of corneal tissue is removed. After reshaping the cornea, the surgeon lays the flap back into place. The flap usually heals without stitches.

During the surgery, you'll be asked to focus on a point of light. Staring at this light helps you keep your eye fixed while the laser reshapes your cornea. You may detect a distinct odor as the laser removes your corneal tissue. Some people describe smelling an odor similar to that of burning hair.

If you need LASIK surgery in both eyes, doctors will generally conduct the procedure on the same day.

After the procedure

Immediately after surgery, your eye might itch, burn and be watery. You'll probably have blurred vision. You generally will experience little pain, and you'll usually recover your vision quickly.

You might be given pain medication or eyedrops to keep you comfortable for several hours after the procedure. Your eye doctor might also ask you to wear a shield over your eye at night until your eye heals.

You'll be able to see after surgery, but your vision won't be clear right away. It takes about two to three months after your surgery before your eye heals and your vision stabilizes. Your chances for improved vision are based, in part, on how good your vision was before surgery.

You'll have a follow-up appointment with your eye doctor one to two days after surgery. He or she will see how your eye is healing and check for any complications. Plan for other follow-up appointments during the first six months after surgery as your doctor recommends.

It might be a few weeks before you can start to use cosmetics around your eyes again. You might also have to wait several weeks before resuming strenuous contact sports, swimming or using hot tubs.

Follow your doctor's recommendations about how soon you can resume your normal activities.