Does LASIK hurt?

If you’re contemplating LASIK eye surgery, one question likely comes to your mind before any other: does LASIK hurt?

The good news is that the answer is no, especially if you choose a practice with skilled surgeons, the latest equipment, and well established processes. The vast majority of our patients look back after the procedure and say they “worried over nothing”; that there was no pain, just nervousness. We hope this article will help further calm some of your anxiety by letting you know exactly what to expect during and after surgery. Of course, contact your doctor with any concerns or questions.

During surgery

The patient is supine and comfortable throughout the procedure. There are no blades; only lasers and gentle manipulation by an expert surgeon.
The patient is calm and comfortable throughout the procedure. There are no blades; only lasers and gentle manipulation by an expert surgeon.

Topical anesthetic eye drops

Most surgeries utilize anesthesia to control pain during the procedure.  While many eye surgeries require medication through an IV in the arm, LASIK only requires topical anesthetic drops to ensure a comfortable and pain-free procedure.  Topical anesthetics work so well for laser eye surgery because there is fairly limited tissue manipulation during this fine-tuned procedure. 

Mild sedating medication

Despite excellent pain control, it is only natural for patients to feel anxious before and during any eye treatment.  Most patients are given a very mild sedating medication by mouth just prior to their procedure in order to help calm any nervousness and facilitate rest during the hours spend recovering after their surgery.   Although this sedation has a calming effect, patients are awake during the treatment and are able to focus on certain lights and targets, as well as have a conversation with their doctor and staff throughout the process.

Eyelid speculum

During the procedure, an eyelid speculum will keep the eye open.  While not at all painful, it can feel awkward when this is applied to your eyelids.  When it’s time to create the LASIK flap, a mild suction ring is applied to the cornea.  This does not hurt at all, but does feel like a mild to moderate pressure sensation.  Most patients report that this is the ‘strangest’ part of the procedure.  But, its also the fastest!  It takes only six seconds to create the LASIK flap once perfect alignment is achieved.  During the sculpting portion of the procedure, there is no sensation that anything is occurring.  The sculpting laser does make a sound though, which can be heard for the several seconds that it takes to reshape the cornea.  

After surgery

Final positioning of the corneal flap with saline

Immediately after surgery

In about 20 minutes, the LASIK procedure will be completed.  When patients first sit up and open their eyes, they can SEE!  Although, initially the vision isn’t very clear.  Most say that they feel like they are looking through water, like in the deep end of a swimming pool.  That’s because they are looking through water!  The surgeon uses saline, or glorified water, throughout the treatment to keep the eyes hydrated.  That means that there is a layer of water underneath the LASIK flap that will take several hours for the body to reabsorb.  

5-6 hours after surgery

The first 5-6 hours after LASIK represents the first phase of the healing process.  During this time, as the numbing drops wear off, the eyelids will feel very heavy and the eyes will want to close.  It is typical to have watery eyes during this phase as well.  We typically recommend resting while wearing the provided eye protective googles during this phase, as the body will heal whether awake or asleep.  

After this phase is complete and patients wake up, they will find that they can more easily open their eyes, there is less tearing, and the vision will already be clearer.  It would be normal to have some mild irritation or scratchiness for a few days after LASIK surgery, but many patients feel completely normal by the following day!  

Post operative eye care

Patients are prescribed eye drops to use for about a week after surgery to help healing and recovery.  We also advise the use of preservative-free artificial tears to use in the weeks and months following LASIK to help keep the eyes hydrated and healthy.  Individual advice will be given by your doctor at your scheduled follow-up visits.

LASIK vision correction is a quick and painless procedure that takes about 20 minutes to complete.  LASIK is one of the most commonly performed refractive surgeries today. It treats myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), and astigmatism to decrease or entirely eliminate the need for glasses. Hundreds of thousands of people get LASIK every year in the US and never look back!


Additional reading

Is LASIK right for me?

Is LASIK safe?

What are potential side effects of LASIK?

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