Does Laser Eye Surgery Hurt? Understand What To Expect
The eyes are delicate. In fact, the cornea – the transparent front surface of the eye – contains the highest density of sensory nerves anywhere in the body. It stands to reason that many people are very sensitive to anything coming close to the eye. Blinking or squeezing the eyes shut is an important and protective reflex. However, the idea of vision correction with laser eye surgery can be an attractive one. No longer do you need to depend on your glasses or contact lenses. There’s no more dropping spectacles, losing contacts, fogged-up lenses, or worrying about cleaning. So, does laser eye surgery hurt? What should you expect to experience while you’re undergoing laser eye surgery? Keep reading to find out.
A Brief Summary of How Laser Eye Surgery Works
Vision correction through laser eye surgery is based on the premise of reshaping the cornea (yes, that ultra-sensitive part of the eye). The shape and curvature of the cornea are partly what dictates your refractive error, commonly known as your prescription. By altering the cornea’s curvature through laser eye surgery, we can redirect the way that light focuses through the eye.
This corneal reshaping is performed through a process known as photoablation. In essence, this refers to using a laser tool to vaporise selected areas of corneal tissue. Different techniques of laser vision correction will differ slightly from each other, all with their pros and cons. One common method is photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), which involves removing the superficial layer of cells from the cornea before performing photoablation.
Another popular laser eye surgery method is laser in situ keratomileusis (LASIK). This technique creates a flap of the top layer of corneal tissue and moves it to one side so that photoablation can be conducted on the deeper layers. This flap is then repositioned at the end of the procedure.
Does Laser Eye Surgery Hurt During the Operation?
Vaporising parts of the cornea sounds like something that should hurt, doesn’t it? Fortunately, the anaesthesia used during laser vision correction is very effective.
It is extremely rare to experience any pain during laser eye surgery. Your eyes will be numbed with topical eye drops that may be reapplied during the procedure if necessary. Some people do report the sensation of pressure around the eye during the operation, which may be interpreted as discomfort, but it doesn’t hurt. Not all will even feel any pressure at all.
There may be some questions around the use of general anaesthesia for laser eye surgery to remove any risk of pain during the procedure. As general anaesthesia comes with its own significant medical risks, it’s not typically considered to be appropriate to use during a procedure such as a laser vision correction. If you’re feeling particularly anxious, your eye specialist may offer you a mild sedative to help you relax.
If at any point you do feel like your eye is hurting or extremely uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to mention this to your eye surgeon or clinical team at the time. They may be able to reapply the anaesthetic eyedrops to improve your comfort.
Does Laser Eye Surgery Hurt During the Recovery Period?
If anything, you’re more likely to feel more discomfort during your post-operative healing period. Despite this, the eye irritation is typically mild and short-lived.
During your recovery after laser eye surgery, you may feel that your eyes:
- Feel dry
- Feel gritty
- Have the sensation of a foreign particle being lodged in there
- Are more sensitive to light
- Are a little watery
These are all very normal responses as your eye heals from surgery and are only expected to last for two weeks or less, depending on which type of laser eye surgery you had. PRK is usually associated with a longer period of eye irritation and healing, while other procedures such as LASIK and SMILE surgery are often faster to recover from.
As with any surgical procedure, there is a small risk of complications during or after the operation. Fortunately, laser eye surgery is considered to be a very safe procedure with low rates of complications. However, these complications may cause some pain or prolonged irritation of the eye:
- A dislodged corneal flap after LASIK
- If debris gets caught beneath the LASIK flap
- Persistent and poorly controlled inflammation of the eye after surgery
- An eye infection
- Trauma or disturbance to the eye while it’s still in a vulnerable state
If you find that your eye continues to be sore and irritated past the expected timeframe, or if your discomfort or pain increases at any time, contact your eye surgeon immediately.
Reducing Your Risk of Post-Operative Pain
There are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of a painful complication occurring during the healing period after your operation.
- Use all your post-op eye drops to the end of the prescribed course. These drops may include medications to control inflammation or prevent infection. Your surgeon may also recommend lubricant drops to protect the cornea as it heals.
- Protect the eye from injury and any foreign substances. This includes taking a break from contact sports and avoiding environments where something might get into the eye.
- Don’t rub your eyes.
- Avoid makeup.
Everyone has a different level of anxiety around eye procedures and the idea of pain. Different people also tolerate discomfort differently – one might view an experience just as a severe irritation while another may interpret the same experience as pain.
If you’re still concerned about the question does laser eye surgery hurt, it might help to speak to your local optometrist or eye surgeon.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
Does Laser Eye Surgery (LASIK) Hurt?
Does laser eye surgery hurt?