Until recently, if you were one of the millions of people with a refractive error (which means that light rays do not focus precisely on the retina, causing you to be nearsighted, farsighted, or astigmatic), eyeglasses and contact lenses were the only options for correcting vision. But with the development of refractive surgery, some people with myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), or astigmatism (a cornea with unequal curves) can have their vision improved surgically.
Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is a refractive procedure that uses a cutting device to create a flap in the cornea and a laser to permanently reshape the cornea by lasering the bed under the flap. The reshaped cornea helps focus light directly onto the retina to reduce or eliminate the need for eyewear.
LASIK is performed as an outpatient procedure using topical anesthesia with eye drops. The procedure itself generally takes about 15 minutes. The surgeon creates a flap in the cornea with a microkeratome or femtosecond laser. The flap is lifted to the side, and the cool beam of the excimer laser is used to remove a thin layer of corneal tissue. The flap is folded back to its normal position and sealed without sutures. The removal of corneal tissue permanently reshapes the cornea.
A clear shield is used to protect the flap for the first day and night after surgery. The vision is usually slightly cloudy immediately after the procedure but clears rapidly, often within just a few hours. Your vision should be clear by the next day. Healing after surgery is often less painful than with other methods of refractive surgery because the laser removes tissue from the inside of the cornea and not the surface. Antibiotic and steroid eye drops are used several times a day for the first week, along with rewetting drops. After the first week, you should need to use only the rewetting eye drops.
As with any surgical procedure, complications and imperfect results are possible. It is not unusual to experience dry eye symptoms for a few months after surgery. Some people experience poor night vision after LASIK. The surgery also may result in undercorrection or overcorrection, which can often be improved with a second surgery. More rare and serious complications include a dislocated flap, epithelial ingrowth, and inflammation or infection underneath the flap. Most complications can be managed without any loss of vision. Permanent vision loss is rare.
The ideal candidate for LASIK has a stable refractive error, has adequate corneal thickness and a normal corneal shape, is free of eye disease, is at least 18 years old, and is willing to accept the potential risks, complications, and side effects of LASIK.