Glasses and contact lenses are the two popular ways of correcting eye defects. Over four decades ago, laser eye surgery burst onto the medical scene and joined the list of vision correcting treatments. The popularity of this procedure has increased all over the UK, but what is laser eye surgery, and how does it work?
In this blog, we will discuss everything there is to know about this surgical procedure.
What is Laser Eye Surgery?
Laser eye surgery is a procedure that involves reshaping the cornea of a patient so that light enters the eye and lands directly on the retina. During the process, the surgeon makes use of surgical instruments or lasers to reshape the cornea by cutting it. However, cutting off a part of the cornea is not the only option available to the surgeon when carrying out laser eye surgeries. The alternative is to make a flap.
Laser eye surgery has a high success rate, with over 95% of cases leading to improved vision in patients.
How Does it Work?
The objective of laser eye surgery is to correct the way light focuses on the retina. However, unlike other eye treatment procedures, a lens is not placed in front of the eye to diverge or converge the rays of light. A computerised-laser is used to carry out the procedure within a few minutes.
The laser used for this procedure is in the wavelength of UV light. Hence, you wouldn’t notice the laser treating the corneal tissue. If you are near-sighted, it means that your cornea is steep, and the laser will flatten it out. On the other hand, far-sightedness is caused by a flat cornea. Hence the laser will steepen it.
The Laser Eye Surgery Process
The thought of having surgery performed on the eye is very frightening to many people. However, laser eye surgeries are quick and painless procedures. Let’s have a look at what the process is for this medical procedure.
- Before the eye surgery: Anaesthetic eye drops are put in the eye of the patient, after which the eyelids are clamped with a speculum. Clamping is done to keep the eye open throughout the surgery, while the anaesthetics are to numb them. All laser eye surgeries are carried out while the patient is awake.
- During the surgery: Once the eye is prepared for the surgery, the surgeon works on reshaping the cornea. A microkeratome (a surgical instrument with an oscillating blade) or laser is used to either create a flap or cut off a part of the cornea. This flap is the top layer of the cornea called the epithelium. If a flap is created, it is lifted and folded so the laser can be directed into the cornea and used to remove cells from it. A clicking noise and odour are usually noticed while the procedure is ongoing.
- After surgery: After the laser eye surgery, the cornea’s epithelium would then be replaced. A contact lens or protective eyewear is then used to keep it in place and safeguard it. The flap will re-bond naturally with the cornea within a few minutes. The surgeon would then prescribe an eye drop that would prevent infections and inflammation if it is necessary.
Types of Laser Eye Surgery
There are seven different types of laser eye surgery available. It is expected that more procedures will be introduced as new technologies emerge. The types of laser eye surgery are;
- LASIK: This is the most popular type of eye surgery in the UK and the world at large. LASIK is an acronym for Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis and is one of the earliest forms of eye surgery. The procedure entails using a blade to create a flap of the epithelium before the laser is focused on the cornea. The laser would then be used to remove thin layers of the cornea.
- Intra-LASIK: Very similar to LASIK, intra-LASIK also involves cutting the top layer of the cornea. However, for this procedure, the laser is used to cut the cornea, rather than a blade.
- Wavefront LASIK: Wavefront LASIK is the most recent form of LASIK. In this operation, a map or 3D scan of the patient’s eye is produced. This procedure is an increasingly safe and accurate method of correcting vision as the chances of getting an improved sight is very high.
- PRK: PRK is an acronym for Photorefractive Keratectomy. It is a refractive eye surgery that is used to correct near-sightedness, astigmatism and far-sightedness. PRK was the first type of eye surgery. In this procedure, the epithelium is discarded after being removed by the laser. The epithelium then regenerates after a couple of days.
- LASEK: This is a variation of PRK that combines the techniques of LASIK and PRK. A thin flap of epithelium is only partially removed using an instrument called a trephine and pushed to one side during this process. A bandage contact lens is then put on the eye to keep the flap in place.
- Epi-LASIK and Epi-LASEK: These two types of laser surgery are very similar to LASIK and LASEK, respectively. The major difference between epi-LASIK and LASIK is that a dull blade is used to create a small corneal flap in epi-LASIK.
Epi-LASEK is a modification of LASEK using a blunt blade as well.
What to Expect After a Laser Eye Treatment?
The procedure takes about 15 to 30 minutes, a time that is dependent on the patient’s prescription and type of surgery involved. Usually, the patient’s vision returns a couple of hours after the anaesthetic’s effect has worn out. So, you can get back to work and perform your normal routines a few days after the operation is performed.
Even though light pressure may be felt in the eye when the laser is focused on the cornea, the discomfort from this procedure is minimal. PRK and LASEK patients take the longest time to recover. This is because it takes a couple of days for the epithelium to heal after being cut off.
Myths of Laser Eye Surgery
Due to the fact that this procedure is performed on a very sensitive organ of the body, a lot of myths of laser eye surgery have been told over the years.
The most popular of them all is that you can go blind. Complications from any laser eye surgery are extremely rare, and no case of blindness has been reported after this process was completed. However, dry eyes is a common side effect that patients have reported over the years.
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Another myth is that the procedure is a placebo surgery because it is completed in a concise period. The flap from the cornea is pushed aside or completely removed from the eyes. The laser also has a genuine effect in correction one’s eyesight. Even though it is a delicate procedure, it is surgery nonetheless.
Furthermore, some people believe that laser eye surgery can burn your eye when it is focused for some time on it. This, like many other myths about laser eye surgeries, is not true. The techniques of carrying out laser surgery require the use of cold lasers that do not burn the eye.
Another common belief is that the surgery is too new to understand the outcomes and success rate. This is not the case. Since 1987, millions of patients have undergone this procedure, and a significant amount of them have had positive results from it.
Lastly, the belief that the procedure is painful is also false. A professional surgeon will always administer anaesthetic eye drops before the surgery. However, you may feel a little pressure on your eyes during the surgery, while some notice mild pain after surgery.
Who is Laser Eye Surgery Suitable?
Laser eye surgery is a permanent and faster way to correct eye problems in patients. Sadly, it isn’t suitable for everyone. The right candidate for a laser surgery must;
- Have no history of corneal diseases
- Not be nursing or pregnant
- Have stable eyesight in the past year
- Have a prescribed pair of glasses or contact lens
- Be at least 21 years
Sadly, if you do not meet all the requirements stated above, then you should consider using other vision-correcting methods.
Useful Tips Before and After You go for Surgery
1. Do not use makeup, perfume, hair products, or drink alcohol: Laser treatment is a very delicate procedure to undergo. To reduce the risk of complications and avoid irritation of the eye, patients are advised not to use makeup, perfume or hair products.
2. Relax your nerves during the process: Even though an anaesthetic is used to keep the eye numb, you would be conscious during the process. Try not to move your head while the laser is being used.
3. Do not itch the eye: Doing this can scratch the surface of the cornea.
Laser eye surgery is becoming increasingly popular as a permanent solution to eye defects. This surgery is a better fix for short-sightedness and long-sightedness than astigmatism where there is an irregular cornea shape. If you have any fears about the procedure, then you should talk to your surgeon before you undergo it.