Most patients get off the operating table and can see the clock across the room but say they feel like they’re under water.
For LASIK, a big jump in clarity occurs in about 4 -6 hours, and you can usually drive a car safely by the following morning. Fine tuning continues for a week or two.
The return of vision is more gradual with PRK. Most patients see well enough for general activities of living in a week, are good in two weeks, very good in one month, and then continue fine tuning over the next 2 months.
The reason why the vision bounces back so quickly is that at the end of the treatment, you are basically left with normal tissue, not damaged tissue. The laser that does the sculpting lifts off minute layers of cornea with each pulse but does not cause collateral damage to the tissue left behind. The body needs to re-adhere the flap (in the case of LASIK) or re-grow skin (in the case of PRK) but is not having to repair damaged tissue before healing.
Of course, everyone heals differently, and there are differences in healing between LASIK and PRK, and the degree and type of prescription change. Recovery for lower prescriptions is faster than with larger ones, and myopes tend to see better quicker than hyperopes.
The healing process with LASIK
With LASIK, you feel like you’re under water at the start because there is fluid in the flap. Much of this is absorbed in 4-6 hours, and by the next morning, you usually can see well enough to drive a car to your first post-op appointment. Ordinarily, you see well enough for general activities of daily living and can work full time, even if you stare at a computer all day, in 2-3 days. There might be some glare around emitted light sources when driving at night, or if there is some dry eye.
The healing process with PRK
With PRK, your vision as you sit up from surgery is actually better than if you had LASIK. Then the rate of change slows down. It is only fair in the first few days, and you should refrain from driving a car. Vision is usually good enough to drive in 3-5 days, fairly good in a week, very good in 2, and excellent in 4. Minor fine tuning continues over 2 more months.
The process for patients who choose “blended vision”
For those over 40 years old who choose “blended vision”, which involves leaving a little near-sightedness in the non-dominant eye, need to allow time to adjust. The brain is amazingly adaptable, and many find this transition seamless. Others take a few days to weeks. Soon, it becomes fluid.
Despite all this great technology, biologic responses fall into a bell-shaped curve. Perhaps in 1% of cases, the goal is not achieved, or a blended vision candidate feels off balance and desires to have the myopic eye re-focused for distance. Relatively simple surgery called an enhancement can be done. In these cases, we often wait for 3-6 months for absolute stability of your refraction before re-treating.
All said, the whole field of laser vision correction is amazing. The speed of recovery is remarkable because with the advanced technology employed, only normal tissue is left behind at the end of the procedure and there is less healing for nature to do.