Even though laser eye surgery is a very safe procedure, it can sometimes lead to some side effects and complications in the short and long run. But before we delve into these possible side effects, let’s take a quick look at the basics of laser eye surgery.
What Is Laser Eye Surgery?
Contrary to popular belief, laser eye surgery is not just one procedure. It is a term that encompasses various kinds of eye surgeries performed to correct vision problems so you can stop wearing glasses or contact lenses. Vision problems including astigmatism, farsightedness, and nearsightedness can be fixed with laser eye surgery and the most common types include LASIK, LASEK, EpiLASIK, and PRK.
In all of these procedures, a special laser known as an “excimer” laser is used to carefully reshape your cornea in order to correct your vision. A comprehensive vision exam conducted by your ophthalmologist can help determine if you are a good candidate for laser eye surgery. This will also be used to recommend the most effective procedure for you. LASIK is by far the most common form of laser eye surgery for correcting refractive errors and is also the most common elective surgery in the world.
What Happens Right After Laser Eye Surgery
Immediately after the procedure, you may feel a burning sensation in your eye, mild pain, tearing, and overall irritation and discomfort. Your eyes will start healing immediately after the procedure and you will be asked to rest your eye as much as possible for the first day or two. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help relieve post-op pain.
Precautions After Laser Eye Surgery
You should arrange to have someone take you home after getting laser eye surgery and you will also need to take about 3–4 days off work to recuperate. You will be given sunglasses to protect against light sensitivity, eye shields to wear at bedtime, and lubricating and antibiotic eye drops to take home with you.1
The urge to rub your eye can be intense after laser eye surgery, but don’t do it! You should also not wear eye makeup or eye creams for about two weeks, avoid strenuous physical activity and contact sports for about three weeks, and avoid swimming and hot tubs for approximately eight weeks post-surgery.2
Short-Term Side Effects Of Laser Eye Surgery
As mentioned previously, mild pain and a burning sensation are normal side effects immediately after laser eye surgery. However, if you experience severe pain and/or if your vision gets worse after surgery, you should call your doctor immediately.
Immediately post surgery, your eyes may water (even the eye not operated upon) and it is also normal to experience blurry vision.3
Other short-term side effects of laser eye surgery include light sensitivity, seeing starbursts and halos around light sources, and experiencing bloodshot eyes. Some people also have problems with night vision. You may also experience reduced contrast sensitivity, which affects the sharpness of vision.4
These are common symptoms and most tend to disappear within 2–4 days after surgery. Your doctor will ask you to return for a follow-up appointment 1–2 days post-op and then regularly after that for about 6 months for check-ups.
Keep in mind it takes up to 6 months for your eye to completely heal and for your vision to stabilize after getting laser eye surgery. So it is important to be patient with yourself. Also resist the urge to pop your contacts back in even if you experience blurry or hazy vision after surgery.
Long-Term Risks Of Laser Eye Surgery
Laser eye surgery is a generally safe procedure and the chances of long-term side effects and/or complications are rather low. Even if they do arise, they can be successfully treated without damaging vision. Chances of losing vision due to laser eye surgery are extremely low. Here are some possible but uncommon long-term side effects:
Corneal Flap Complications
Laser eye surgery involves the creation of a very thin hinged flap in front of the cornea which is lifted during surgery to actually reshape your cornea with the help of the laser. The flap is put back in place after surgery to act as a bandage. If this flap is not made properly, it may not stick to the surface of the cornea like it should, causing microscopic wrinkles to form. In turn, these wrinkles can lead to distorted vision and other complications.
Infection And Inflammation
Infection and inflammation may arise after laser eye surgery for some people. This is usually treatable with medication and rarely requires a follow-up surgical procedure to fix.
Some people experience chronic dry eye after getting laser surgery, often in conjunction with redness and itchiness. This is usually treated with the help of dry eye medication.
Over- Or Under-Correction
If the laser procedure is not done properly, patients may experience over-or under-correction of their refractive error, which can mean blurry vision. This is usually correctable with the help of a follow-up laser procedure or corrective glasses.
Bulging Of The Cornea
A bulged cornea is another possible long-term side effect of laser eye surgery. That said, only 1 in 5000 people are known to develop it post-op. This condition is known as ectasia and your doctor will screen you for it to determine if you may be at risk for it.
Reduced Vision Or Permanent Loss Of Vision
There is a very small chance that your vision may be worse than before you got laser eye surgery. Partially reduced vision can be treated with corrective lenses and complete loss of vision is extremely rare.5 6
|↑1||What Can I Expect with Laser Eye Surgery? UC Davis Medical Center.|
|↑2, ↑3||What should I expect before, during, and after surgery? US Food and Drug Administration.|
|↑4||Complications and Side Effects. UNC School of Medicine.|
|↑5||Complications and Side Effects. UNC School of Medicine.|
|↑6||Ectasia After LASIK. American Academy of Ophthalmology.|