The Three Main Types of Laser Eye Surgery
There are a number of different forms of laser eye surgery available in the UK. The most popular is LASIK, which accounts for 90% of all procedures, then LASEK, and lastly PRK. Each type of surgery has its own advantages and disadvantages and some are more suited to certain types of patients than others.
LASIK can be used by ophthalmic surgeons to treat farsightedness, nearsightedness and astigmatism. The process works by using a femtosecond laser to create a thin cut in the cornea. The corneal flap is then lifted and some corneal tissue is removed creating a flatter, steeper or smoother cornea as desired.
Of the three main types of surgery, LASIK makes the deepest cuts into the base tissue and tends to have the most effective results. It also has the fastest healing time of all the three procedures at around two to three days. The surgery itself takes around fifteen minutes per eye but there will be some preliminary eye examinations by the surgeon to map your cornea and check the moistness of your eyes.
LASEK treats the same conditions as LASIK but the procedure is performed in a different manner. During this operation, the surgeon lifts the thin epithelial layer from the eye prior to carrying out reshaping work. The epithelium is then replaced onto the eye.
LASEK was developed in response to complications that occurred when the flap created during LASIK was not of the right diameter or thickness. For this reason, LASEK is most commonly used for people who have corneas that are too steep or thin for LASIK. The process takes around fifteen minutes per eye and the healing time is longer and comparatively more uncomfortable than with LASIK.
For patients to recover good vision following LASEK treatment, it tends to take between four and seven days. However, you can return home immediately after the operation providing you do not drive, so be sure to have transport arranged beforehand.
PRK stands for photorefractive keratectomy and can be used to treat myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism. PRK was the first sort of laser eye surgery to be developed and although LASIK has now overtaken it in terms of popularity, it still retains certain advantages for a number of patients.
The surgical process used for PRK is similar to LASEK in that no corneal flap is created. However, the entire epithelial layer is removed (as opposed to just being lifted) and will grow back after surgery. The surgery itself takes about fifteen minutes to complete and you will generally be awake during the procedure, although the surgeon is likely to give you a sedative to help you relax.
PRK is suitable for people with thin corneas and those who have previously had LASIK. There is no risk of corneal flap complications and there is a reduced risk of the compromising of corneal thickness. However, recovery time is longer compared to LASIK and optimum vision takes longer for the patient to obtain. There is also a higher risk of post surgery infections and the recovery period is more uncomfortable.
The success rates for both LASIK and PRK are very similar, with the vast majority of patients achieving 20/20 vision after the surgery and nearly everyone achieving 20/40 vision. LASEK also has a very high success rate with between 90-95% of patients achieving excellent vision after the procedure. For patients who have very severe cases of poor eyesight, glasses may still need to be worn on occasion, but this will typically be only for certain tasks and at a much lower prescription.
Costs of Laser Eye Surgery
The cost of any eye surgery will depend on the severity of your prescription, the clinic you choose and the procedure you opt for. Many clinics advertise rates as low as £395 per eye, but this offer is generally only available to people who have the very mildest prescriptions. A more realistic figure is around the £1,000 to £1,500 mark to treat each eye, though some clinics may offer you a discount if you get both eyes treated at the same time. If you are looking to include some of the latest eye surgery technologies, such as blended vision or Wave Front Laser technology, this can add a further £400 to £600 to the overall price per eye.
Risks of Eye Surgery
Complications following laser eye surgery occur in less than 5% of cases, so medically speaking, all three treatments are considered to be safe. The most common side effects which do occur after surgery include dry eyes (which may require artificial tear supplements) and halo or glare effects when driving at night. This latter complication is more common in those who had a stronger prescription to start with.
Severe reduction in vision is rare following laser eye treatment, but some patients do require corneal surgery or hard contact lenses to re-establish their vision. It must also be remembered that eyesight continues to change throughout our lives as the muscles in the eye weaken, so laser eye surgery provides no guarantee that you will not need glasses at some point in the future.
How to Find a Laser Eye Surgeon
Laser eye surgery is only available on the NHS for the most serious vision problems so you will normally have to go private for the operation. Clinics will generally only treat people who are over the age of 21 and have had a stable prescription for at least two years.
For those who are considering undergoing treatment, the first step would be to speak to your optician who can give you advice about the procedure and recommend good clinics in your local area. Then it is worth contacting a number of clinics to discuss your options. Important questions to ask during your consultation include; what is the clinic's success rate, what level of experience does the surgeon have and can they provide testimonials from previous clients? Further information about laser eye surgery can also be sought from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.