How does it work? And more importantly, what if my eye moves while the laser is on?
Eye surgery sounds scary. Our eyes are one of our most sensitive body parts, and having anything except for the occasional contact lens or stray bug touch them is nigh unthinkable. Getting LASIK, therefore, can be a daunting proposition for the uninformed. That’s why we’ve gathered some common questions about the procedure and answered them to ease your mind.
What does LASIK stand for?
Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis. In situ is Latin for “in position,” and keratomileusis is a fancy word for this particular type of surgery. If you break it down into its Greek roots, you get keras, which means “horn” or “cornea,” and smileusis, or “carving.” So, laser-assisted positioned corneal carving!
Wait, “carving”? Like what you do to a big ol’ ham?
“Reshaping” is a better way to think about it. LASIK changes the shape of your cornea to improve your vision. It can address farsightedness, nearsightedness, or astigmatism, usually to the point where you won’t have to wear glasses or contacts to see clearly.
That sounds convenient, but it also sounds like crazy magic. How does it work?
The procedure is relatively simple and should be painless. Here’s what happens.
1. A surgeon numbs your eyes with anesthetic eye drops.
2. As a soft suction ring holds the eye in place, the surgeon uses a tiny blade or a laser (the latter is more common nowadays) to create a small, circular flap on the outermost layer of your cornea. The flap acts like a hinged window into the cornea’s next layer, called the stroma.
3. The surgeon lifts and folds back the corneal flap. A different, specialized laser (called an excimer laser) then reshapes the stroma. But it doesn’t beam into your eye willy-nilly—it vaporizes the stroma’s cells with extreme precision, according to your unique prescription. Basically, it reshapes your cornea so that your eye’s own lens will have focusing power similar to that of the lenses in your glasses or contacts.
4. The laser finishes, and the surgeon closes the corneal flap. The flap will remain shut on its own and heal over time, no weird eye stitches needed. Overall, the procedure lasts for about 10 minutes per eye, and less than a minute of that involves the actual lasering.
What if I move my eye or try to wink at a passing hottie during the procedure?
Well, you won’t be able to wink or blink. Your eyes will be (gently!) held open by a lid speculum. You’ll be told to look at a light to keep your eye relatively steady. But—and this is perhaps the coolest part about LASIK— the laser also has an advanced eye-tracking system. When your eye moves, the system redirects the beam, and the laser doesn’t target tissue that it’s not supposed to.
Are there any side effects afterward?
Your eyes might feel itchy, dry, or like they have something small stuck in them. Your vision might also be a little hazy at first, and you may see “halos” or other types of glare around light sources. These symptoms should go away shortly—if not within a few days, then within three to six months. It’s important to note, however, that in a small number of cases, certain side effects can be permanent.
Most LASIK patients return to work the day after their surgery. Your doctor will prescribe you eye drops to encourage healing and schedule follow-up appointments to check on your progress.
Will I be able to ditch my glasses or contact lenses immediately and forever? I want to throw them into a hungry volcano.
You should be able to see more clearly in a few days after your appointment, but some people’s vision takes longer to improve and settle at its final acuity.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that “more than 90 percent of people who have LASIK achieve somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40 vision without glasses or contact lenses.” So LASIK might not get you absolutely perfect vision, but it does typically eliminate dependence on corrective lenses.
What it does not do is prevent you from needing reading glasses as you age. Your eyes will still get old, sorry.
How much does it cost? I’m not going to pay an arm and a leg for an eye, LOL.
LASIK surgeons charge per eye, and the cost can vary based on a variety of factors, such as your prescription and the equipment used. TLC Laser Eye Centers says to expect standard prices of about $2,000 per eye. But remember, LASIK is a medical procedure, which means that all sorts of financial help is available. Look into tax-exempt savings accounts such as FSAs and HSAs, or contact your insurance company to see if it offers a discount.
OK, I’ll play your little “laser-to-the-eyeball” game. Am I eligible for LASIK?
A consultation with an eye doctor will tell you if you’re a good candidate for LASIK. The doctor will ask about any preexisting conditions and take detailed measurements of your cornea. If you find out that you aren’t eligible for LASIK, you aren’t necessarily doomed to a life full of microfiber cleaning cloths—there are alternative treatments that have similar results.