Laser Eye Surgery Frequently Asked Questions
So you're considering laser eye surgery but don't know where to start. With so many confusing terminologies and different treatments to choose from, doing research on laser eye surgery can be a daunting task.
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If your questions about laser eye surgery aren't answered below then please feel free to leave you comments at the bottom of this page and we'll happily help.
How Does Laser Eye Surgery Work?
Laser eye surgery can heal a range of eye disorders, such as myopia, astigmatism and long-sightedness. What all of these disorders have in common is that the cornea, the part of the eye that is essential to focusing, is an unusual shape. This means that light travelling through the eye cannot be focused properly and leads to a variety of symptoms such as blurred vision.
Laser eye surgery involves either temporarily or permanently removing the surface layers of the cornea and reshaping the tissue below using the laser. LASIK involves cutting a hinged flap into the cornea and is the most popular form of surgery. LASEK is less intrusive and involves the lifting of the epithelium, the thin layer of tissue covering the cornea, which is replaced following surgery. Finally, PRK involves removing a small amount of surface tissue form the cornea, which grows back following surgery.
How Much Is Laser Eye Surgery?
The price of laser eye surgery varies significantly by clinic, by type of surgery and by area. Private clinics with excellent reputations are in high demand and command high prices as a result. These clinics tend to attract the best eye specialists and have the best success rates, so you are not just paying for the name. The upshot is that they also tend to offer low cost pay monthly finance deals so expensive does not necessarily mean unaffordable.
Average prices for laser eye surgery do depend on what type of treatment you opt for. Standard LASEK and LASIK are both the most common forms of surgery and the cheapest. Laser eye surgery starts at around £900 and can go up to around £2,000 per eye, even from standard providers.
Read more about the cost of laser eye surgery by clicking here
Am I Suitable For Laser Eye Surgery?
Most patients who suffer from standard refractory disorders are suitable for laser eye surgery and research shows that nine out of ten sufferers will benefit from treatment. A consultation with a qualified eye specialist is the only true way to determine suitability but the good news is that many reputable clinics offer free or very low cost initial consultations.
Patients who are definitely not suitable for laser eye surgery are pregnant women, children and people under the age of 21. In the case of pregnancy, hormones can affect eyesight, so it is better to wait until after pregnancy when the eyes have stabilised. Under 21s are discouraged from laser eye surgery because there is a chance that their eyesight is still developing.
For a more comprehensive overview of who is suitable for laser eye surgery and who isn't then click here to read more.
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Is Laser Eye Surgery Permanent?
There is no guarantee that your laser eye surgery will be permanent even if you get a great result initially, but for the vast majority of patients, laser eye surgery will completely cure their vision problems permanently and quickly. The good news is that only 5% of patients do not get the desired results first time and many of those go on to get permanent results following more treatment.
In general, the more severe the original eye problem, the higher the chance that re-treatment or glasses will be required. Those with a high glasses prescription, high astigmatism or who are very long-sighted are more likely to fall into this category. Even if you cannot have further surgery, your eyesight is highly unlikely to regress to its former condition, so whilst you may not have 20/20 vision, it should still be greatly improved.
How Long Does Laser Eye Surgery Last?
The effects of laser eye surgery are permanent for the vast majority of patients and should not start to deteriorate unless the surgery wasn't completely successful to begin with. Cases where that does happen tend to be more complex and are often eligible for re-treatment.
Sometimes patients think that the effect of their surgery is wearing off when vision starts to deteriorate some years after surgery. This is more likely to be presbyopia, or age related visual degeneration, and is the eye equivalent to getting wrinkles. Presbyopia cannot be treated with laser eye surgery and is not related in any way to your original eye condition.
More information on the long-term vision issues following laser eye surgery can be found by clicking here
This article offers a comprehensive overview of the safety of laser eye surgery.
Is Laser Eye Surgery Safe?
Laser eye surgery is extremely safe and complications are very rare. The better qualified and reputable your surgeon, the less chance you have of anything going wrong at all. The agreed complication rate on laser eye surgery is thought to be around 0.1% and many of those complications are easily rectified.
Sadly, long term problems can and do occur and these are mostly to do with poorly qualified surgeons making errors when cutting the flap into the cornea. The chance of non-rectifiable complications is 1 in 25,000 surgeries (or 0.004%).
The chance of permanent blindness as a result of laser eye surgery is statistical only; to date, no one has ever reported going blind following surgery. The odds of blindness are about 1 in 5 million patients but until it happens, that figure is meaningless.
Does Laser Eye Surgery Hurt?
Laser eye surgery is completely painless. In fact, the thought of the procedure is probably more painful than the treatment itself.
Prior to surgery, the surgeon will numb your eye with anaesthetising eye drops. These may cause a mild stinging sensation for a few seconds. However, the laser eye surgery itself is so swift that for the majority of patients it is completely painless. You may experience some mild discomfort as your eye is held open with a clip, but that's all.
Most of the discomfort relating to laser surgery occurs after the event, during the healing process, although actual pain is very rare. Post-operative discomfort may include itching and dryness for up to 48 hours though this can be relieved with eye drops provided to you by the clinic.
More information on the subject can be found here.
What Is The Success Rate Of Laser Eye Surgery?
Despite that, if only 5% of patients require re-treatment, that is still an excellent success rate. In addition, figures collated from the top five UK laser eye surgery clinics showed that just under 97% of patients came out with 20:20 vision following surgery, with 99.5% of all moderate or minor cases having eyesight restored to a level acceptable to the DVLA for driving.
Overall, the odds are good that your surgery will be a success if you choose a good, reputable clinic.
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What Can I Expect After Laser Eye Surgery?
Most patients find that full vision is restored between 24 and 48 hours after surgery, but occasionally it can take a little longer. If you don't see any improvement after 4 days you should contact the clinic where you had the surgery for an immediate follow up appointment.
You can expect some mild to moderate side effects after surgery. You are likely to want to rub your eyes as they may become dry and itchy. Wearing glasses can prevent you touching your eyes and accelerate the healing process. After 7 - 10 days, you should be fully recovered, back to work and driving. A follow up appointment with your consultant should be made within a few days of having the surgery to check your progress and further appointments may be made in the weeks and months after, just to make sure you have healed well and the surgery was successful.
What's The Recovery Time For Laser Eye Surgery?
The recovery time from laser eye surgery depends upon the type of surgery, the patient and how well the surgery went. Providing no complications arise, you could be completely recovered within 2 days.
On leaving the clinic, your eyes will be covered with cotton pads, which you will be advised to keep in place for 24 hours. You will also be issued with eye drops and antibiotics to prevent infection. You will be advised to take at least three days off work to allow for recovery, although you may need more if you drive as part of your job. Driving should be avoided for up to ten days for bilateral surgery.
To help aid a speedy recovery, avoid rubbing your eyes. Rubbing can cause the wound to take longer to heal and may even lead to an eye infection, which can prolong the recovery period.
What Are The Side Effects Of Laser Eye Surgery?
All surgeries carry the risk of side effects and laser eye surgery is no different. Thankfully, most of the side effects from laser eye surgery are mild and temporary. These include dry eyes, temporary 'floaters' and worsened night vision. Very rarely, these side effects can be permanent or long term.
More serious, but extremely rare, side effects of laser eye surgery include growths on the cornea at the incision point, double, blurred or foggy vision, chronic eye inflammation, eye infections and loss of sight.
Whilst the mild and temporary side effects are just par for the course, you can minimise the risk of more serious complications by choosing your clinic wisely. Sadly, the more serious complications do tend to happen more often at the less reputable, cheaper clinics, so it is worth paying a bit more for a higher quality of treatment.
How Long Does Laser Eye Surgery Take?
From the initial enquiry to your last follow up appointment, laser eye surgery can take a couple of months. The surgery itself takes no more than 1 minute per eye and often much less, but you will also need to prepare for your treatment in advance.
You will be asked to remove your hard lenses at least four weeks prior to having your initial consultation. Soft lenses can be removed at least one week before. Your consultation should take little more than an hour and follow up appointments can be anything form ten minutes to an hour, depending upon your results. An overnight stay is not required but some higher end clinics do offer accommodation as part of their package.
Can You Have Laser Eye Surgery More Than Once?
Multiple laser eye surgeries are common where treatment has not worked fully the first time or if complications arise during the initial surgery that require further treatment to fix. There are no adverse effects from multiple surgeries providing the cornea is strong enough to withstand further manipulation.
You would need a consultation with an eye specialist to establish suitability for further surgery. This is especially the case where some time has passed between the initial surgery and the follow up, to exclude any age related deterioration which is not treatable with laser eye surgery.
What's The Best Age To Have Laser Eye Surgery?
There is no 'best age' to have laser eye surgery, but there are one or two age related factors to take into consideration if you are planning to have surgery in the UK.
Firstly, patients under the age of 18 are strongly discouraged from having laser eye surgery and the NHS in the UK actively discourages patients under the age of 21. One of the prerequisites for having laser eye surgery is that your vision has been stable for at least two years. In patients under 18, the eyes are likely to still be developing and surgery is very likely to fail or cause further vision problems.
Secondly, vision related problems that arise after the age of 40 could be down to an age related condition called presbyopia. This is a very common condition that is not treatable with laser eye surgery and can even occur after you've had surgery for a treatable condition.
What's The Best Place To Have Laser Eye Surgery In The UK?
There is a huge variety of clinics in the UK and some have a better reputation than others. Unfortunately, there is no one right answer as to where the best place is because this will depend upon a variety of factors, including your budget and your specific needs.
Thanks to rapidly improving technology, increased awareness of laser eye surgery and the growing number of excellent practitioners, finding an excellent surgery near you is easy. Using a comparison site, meeting with individual clinics, reading reviews and follow-ups and gut feeling are all great ways to find a clinic that you feel comfortable with.
Read our guide to finding the best laser eye surgery clinic in the UK by clicking here.
Can I Have Laser Eye Surgery If I Have Astigmatism?
Yes, you can definitely have laser eye surgery if you have astigmatism provided you are not unsuitable for surgery for other reasons for exclusions which you can find listed here.
Astigmatism is a refractive disorder of the eye. Sufferers of astigmatism tend to have a cornea that is ovoid in shape, rather than the spherical shape of a normal cornea. This causes light to be focused on the wrong part of the retina, resulting in blurred or unclear vision. Laser eye surgery is perfect for astigmatism because it reshapes the cornea beneath the surface tissue, allowing light to be focused at the correct point on the retina for clear, focused vision.
Laser eye surgery is suitable for treating all types of astigmatism - even the types that can't be treated with glasses or lenses.
Click here for more information on how laser eye surgery can successfully treat astigmatism.
Can I Get Laser Eye Surgery On The NHS?
Laser eye surgery is available on the NHS but it is only available for problems that can lead to loss of vision without treatment. Loss of vision includes blindness and partial blindness and can be caused by conditions such as diabetic retinopathy or wet macular degeneration.
Standard refractive conditions, such as astigmatism or short-sightedness, are not treated for free on the NHS because they do not lead to loss of vision and they can be rectified using conventional methods like glasses and contact lenses. Some NHS trusts do offer laser eye surgery for these conditions but they tend to charge a fee.
Treatment for the kind of problems the NHS treats is different to standard laser eye surgery as it targets the blood vessels around the cornea rather than the cornea itself, to prevent them leaking the fluid that leads to vision loss. Click here for more details and find out whether you could be entitled to laser eye surgery on the NHS.