ReLEx SMILE Laser Eye Surgery

ReLEx SMILE surgery is the very latest laser eye treatment for the correction of short-sightedness and astigmatism.

The surgery has many advantages over other types of laser treatments, including a faster and less uncomfortable recovery and an extremely low risk of complication.

Prices for ReLEx SMILE surgery start at approximately £2,000 per eye, but most clinics do provide financial assistance to help you to pay for the surgery.

What is ReLEx SMILE Surgery?
Are You Eligible?
What are the Benefits?
The Procedure
ReLEx SMILE Recovery
ReLEx SMILE Complications
Is it Available on the NHS?

What Is ReLEx SMILE Surgery?

ReLEx SMILE surgery is the very latest, 3rd generation, laser eye surgery that has revolutionized corrective treatments for individuals with short-sightedness (with or without astigmatism). Over 500,000 people worldwide have had the procedure so far, with 80% of patients noticing a significant improvement in their eyesight immediately after having the treatment.

Unlike in traditional types of laser eye surgery where a 20mm ‘flap’ is created on the cornea to remove the tissue below, ReLEx SMILE surgery removes the tissue through a much smaller 4mm incision on the cornea. This technique is therefore minimally invasive, providing a safer, quicker and more comfortable alternative to traditional laser corrective procedures.

Here, Valerie Saw, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital, discusses what ReLEx SMILE surgery is and how it is better than other types of laser treatments:


Video Transcript

"There is a new way of carrying out the surgery where we can do a flap-free corneal laser surgery and that’s called SMILE, ReLEx SMILE and the laser that does that is here (gestures to the machine behind). The laser cuts a very precisely shaped disk of tissue in the cornea and the piece of tissue is customised to correct the focus of the eye. Then that little piece of tissue is removed from the cornea through a keyhole incision, so there’s no need to cut a Lasik flap.

The advantages are the eye is stronger, there is evidence that there is less dry eye as well, and that the visual recovery is quicker than with surface laser treatment, which takes at least 7 to 14 days for the vision to recover.

At the moment it is being offered to a portion of our patients, which is really exciting but it’s only available at the moment for people with shortsight and astigmatism. It’s not possible to correct longsight at the moment with this technology. Also there is some refinements in terms of tracking of the eye and registration to make sure they are worked on at the moment.

That’s really an exciting field because potentially it could make the need to have the Lasik flap less common. I don’t think it’s going to mean that Lasik and surface treatment are not performed, but it’s good to have an alternative for people who can’t take time off work for the surface treatment, and they don’t want the flap or there are reasons why they can’t have the flap."

Valerie Saw, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital


Are You Eligible?

In order to find out if you are eligible for ReLEx SMILE surgery, you should book a consultation with an ophthalmic surgeon. Consultations are usually free at most private eye surgery clinics in the UK. The ophthalmic surgeon will ask you questions about your lifestyle and health history, and will carry out a thorough eye exam to determine whether you are a suitable candidate for the procedure.

In general, you will be accepted for ReLEx SMILE surgery if you:

  • Are at least 18 years of age
  • Have myopia (short-sightedness) and your prescription falls within 0.50 to -10.00 dioptres
  • Have astigmatism and your prescription falls within +/- 0.50 to +/- 6.00 dioptres
  • Have a prescription that hasn’t changed in at least a year
  • Have thinner than average corneas
  • Have dry eyes
  • Participate in contact sports such as rugby or martial arts
  • Have a career whereby recovery needs to be safe and quick, such as if you work in the police or aviation industry
  • Are intolerant to contact lenses

What Are The Benefits?

There are many benefits associated with ReLEx SMILE laser eye surgery, including:

  • Wide eligibility: more patients are eligible for ReLEx SMILE surgery than any other type of laser eye surgery. People who have been turned down for LASIK or LASEK eye surgery are often a suitable candidate for this treatment.

  • Fast recovery: ReLEx SMILE surgery has the quickest recovery time of any laser eye surgery. This is because it is a minimally invasive procedure, meaning your eyes only take 1 to 2 days to heal. This means it causes little disruption to your everyday life, with you being able to return to your normal activities within 5 days of the surgery.

  • Little discomfort: because only a tiny incision is made on your cornea during ReLEx SMILE surgery, the healing process is much less painful than with other types of laser eye surgery. In particular, the risk of developing dry eyes following this treatment is very low.

  • Low risk of complications: success rates are extremely high for ReLEx SMILE surgery, and it is one of the safest surgical procedures you can have. Because no cut or flap is made on the cornea like in other types of laser eye surgery, it removes the risk of you developing any serious-flap related complications.

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The Procedure

ReLEx SMILE surgery is very quick and takes just 15 minutes to perform. It is carried out on an outpatient basis meaning that you can return home shortly after the procedure is completed, provided your surgeon is happy with how the surgery went.

Below we have produced a step-by-step guide about what you can expect from your ReLEx SMILE surgery:


  • You will need to attend a consultation with an ophthalmic surgeon who will determine your suitability for ReLEx SMILE surgery.

  • If you wear contact lenses, you will be required to stop wearing them for one week before the date of your surgery. This is because contact lenses can change the shape of your cornea and therefore affect the success of the treatment.

  • On the day of your surgery, you must not wear any eye makeup. It is advisable to refrain from wearing eye makeup for several days before your operation to ensure that they are clean.


  • Anaesthetic eye drops will be applied to your eyes to numb them.

  • A lid speculum will be used to keep your eyes open and to stop you from blinking during the procedure. This can initially feel quite uncomfortable.

  • You will be instructed to look at a small coloured light above you. The Visumax femtosecond laser will then be positioned over your head.

  • Your surgeon will use the femtosecond laser to ‘carve out’ a lenticule - a small-disc shaped piece of corneal tissue. The pulses emitted by the laser will create bubbles less than 1/100th of the width of hair to create the lenticule.

  • The surgeon will then use the femtosecond laser to create a microscopic connecting tunnel or ‘keyhole’ from which to extract the lenticule, using an incredibly fine pair of tweezers. Removing the lenticule will reshape your cornea, therefore correcting your short-sightedness.


  • You will be taken to a resting room where you will be told to relax for approximately 30 minutes. During this time, your surgeon will carry out a post-operative check-up on your eyes to ensure that the surgery went well.

  • You will be given some antibiotic eye drops to stop infection, as well as some lubricating eye drops to prevent your eyes from getting dry. You must use these for several weeks after the surgery.

  • Your surgeon will also give you some information about how to care for your eyes in the weeks following the treatment.

  • You are then free to leave the clinic. You will not be able to drive immediately after your surgery, so you should arrange for someone to give you a lift home or take public transport.

  • Once you are home, you should rest for the remainder of the day.

  • You will need to attend a follow-up appointment with your surgeon within the first two weeks following the treatment. This is to check that your eyes are recovering as expected, and that you are happy with the outcome of the surgery.

ReLEx SMILE Recovery

One of the reasons why ReLEx SMILE surgery has become so popular is because the recovery time from the procedure is much shorter when compared to any other type of laser eye surgery, such as LASIK. The reason for this is because the procedure is much less invasive – no cut or flap is made on your cornea, meaning your eyes heal a lot quicker from the surgery.

Approximately 80% of patients notice a considerable improvement in their eyesight just a few hours after ReLEx SMILE surgery, with their vision completely stabilizing within 2 to 4 weeks. In the first few days immediately after surgery however, it can be normal to experience some temporary visual disturbances, such as:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Glare or halos around bright lights
  • Blurry or hazy vision

It is possible to resume normal activities 5 days after undergoing the treatment, including returning to work and participating in contact sports. For the first few days after surgery however, you should avoid:

  • Wearing eye makeup
  • Getting soapy water or dirt in your eyes
  • Engaging in strenuous physical activity

ReLEx SMILE Complications

The vast majority of patients who undergo ReLEx SMILE surgery do not experience any complications. As with all types of surgery however, there are some potential risks that you should be aware of. These will be explained to you by your surgeon during your consultation. Complications include:

  • Infection in the eye
  • Scarring on the cornea
  • Dry eyes
  • Small tears at the site of the incision on your cornea

If you experience any of the above, you should seek medical advice as soon as you are able to from your surgeon or GP.


ReLEx SMILE surgery is currently only available at a limited number of private clinics in the UK. This is because it is a brand new, state-of-the-art laser eye surgery that only just received FDA approval in 2016. This also means however, that it tends to cost more than older types of laser eye surgery such as LASIK and LASEK.

Below we have provided a guide price of ReLEx SMILE surgery at some of the UK’s leading clinics:

Clinic Starting Price (Per Eye)
London Vision Clinic £4900
Optegra £2250
Sheffield Vision Clinic £1900

If you do not have the money available to fund ReLEx SMILE surgery upfront, most clinics offer you the option of paying for the treatment on finance. This helps to make the surgery more affordable by spreading its cost over a prolonged period of time, typically between 12 and 48 months.

Most financial agreements will require you to pay an upfront deposit to secure the day of your surgery. You will then need to pay a small monthly instalment each month. These instalments will usually be calculated at a fixed rate of interest, although some clinics do offer interest-free finance terms.

If you want to pay for your ReLEx SMILE surgery on finance, you should discuss it with the patient support staff at your clinic who will be able to talk you through the different options available to you and help you to decide which finance package is best for you.

Is It Available On The NHS?

ReLEx SMILE surgery is not available on the NHS, meaning that you will have to pay for the procedure yourself at a private clinic. This is because the treatment corrects short-sightedness, a condition which can be successfully treated simply by using glasses or contact lenses. The NHS therefore views ReLEx SMILE surgery as a cosmetic procedure which it refuses to fund, as it is seen as a waste of NHS resources. Laser eye surgery is only available on the NHS for patients who are at risk of going blind if they do not undergo the treatment.

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