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Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (or LASIK) is a surgical procedure designed to help you see clearly enough to handle most day-to-day tasks without the use of glasses or contacts.
Compared to most surgeries, recovery is fast. The surgery is over quickly, but there are things you must do to ensure a quick recovery.
In the short term, you will need to protect your eyes as they heal. After a month or so, your eyes will be somewhat recovered, but you must protect your eyes during strenuous exercise, and your vision may fluctuate. During the following six months, your eyes will continue to heal, and you will need to keep protecting the flap created during surgery.
Blurred vision is common immediately after surgery, but that issue fades with time. If it does not, your surgeon can step in and help you to heal.
In order to help you understand what to do at each recovery stage, we will walk through the timeline step by step.
LASIK Recovery Timeline
Your eyes will start to heal right away after LASIK surgery, and vision will usually start to clear within the first few days.
The LASIK recovery timeline generally looks like this:
- Within 24 to 48 hours: Your eyes should heal well enough to be able to drive, shower, and go back to work.
- In one to two weeks: The corneal flap should be healed enough that the risk for infection goes down. You can go back to exercising and participating in non-contact sports. You are free to use lotions, creams, and makeup around the eyes.
- After a month or two: Your eyes should be healed enough for contact sports, swimming, and using hot tubs.
- At the two-to-three-month mark: If you want or need to wear contacts after LASIK, your eyes should be ready to be fitted for them now.
- In six months: Your vision should be stable, and visual disturbances should be cleared.
In general, your eyes and vision should start to clear up within a few days to weeks after LASIK surgery, although it can take up to six months for your vision to completely stabilize. Severe myopia (nearsightedness) can extend the LASIK recovery timeline, and your eyes can take longer to heal.
Complications like infections can affect your recovery process and timeline. You will need to attend regular checkups following LASIK surgery to ensure your eyes are healing properly. Discuss significant pain, worsening vision, or issues that are not improving with your eye doctor right away.
Aftercare for LASIK
There are several things that you can do and avoid to help your eyes heal correctly after LASIK surgery.
What to Do:
- Schedule and attend regular eye exams. You will need to be seen within 48 hours after LASIK surgery to ensure your eyes are healing properly. You will then attend regular checkups within the first six months following surgery to monitor your progress and recovery.
- Use the provided eye drops as directed. Your eye doctor will give you medicated drops to put in your eyes after surgery to keep the inflammation and risk for infection down.
- Protect your eyes with sunglasses during the day and/or eye shields at night. Your ophthalmologist will often give you eye shields to wear at night for the first few days after LASIK surgery. They will recommend that you wear sunglasses to further protect your eyes when you are outside during the day.
- Let your doctor know if your symptoms get worse. If you suffer from significant pain or experience vision issues that get worse or change after surgery, contact your eye doctor right away.
- Use eyeglasses instead of contacts if you need vision correction. It can take a few months for your eyes to be stable enough to manage contacts.
- Be patient. It can take several months for your vision to stabilize and visual issues to clear up completely following LASIK surgery.
What Not to Do:
- Rub your eyes. It can feel like you have something in your eyes after surgery, but it is important to avoid rubbing them. This allows the corneal flap to heal properly.
- Use lotion, makeup, or creams around your eyes for at least two weeks after surgery. Any of these products can get into your eyes and cause infection.
- Swim in water that may be contaminated for the first few weeks. This includes lakes, oceans, hot tubs, swimming pools, and rivers.
- Engage in anything that could irritate your eyes for the first month or two. Refrain from vigorous exercise, lifting weights, and contact sports for at least the first month.
Be careful driving at night for the first few weeks to months after LASIK surgery. Light sensitivity, halos, and glares around lights can persist for a few months before gradually clearing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns.
Be sure to follow all of your ophthalmologist’s instructions and aftercare directives for LASIK surgery to ensure a smooth, speedy, and successful recovery.
Immediate Recovery: What to Do First
During LASIK surgery, your doctor will create a small flap in the cornea of your eye. That flap will be lifted, and corneal tissue beneath that flap will be removed with a laser. The flap will be returned to the surface of your eye, where it will knit in place without sutures.
The surgery takes just minutes to complete, but a lot happens during those few surgical moments. Immediately after surgery, you may experience symptoms caused by the disruption of surgery. According to an article published in the journal Expert Review of Ophthalmology, almost all LASIK patients experience dry eye symptoms after surgery. This is the most common symptom people deal with right after surgery.
Your doctor will give you eye drops to use in the days after surgery, and it is vital for you to use those drops instead of rubbing or scratching your eyes when they feel dry. Rubbing your eyes can disturb the flap created during surgery, and that can cause even more pain and complication.
You may be sent home with shields covering your eyes, and it is vital to keep those shields in place until your doctor tells you to remove them. This is especially important if you plan to spend the day of surgery sleeping. Rubbing your eyes on sheets or blankets could disturb your eyes, and shields are designed to protect you. Do not take them off until your doctor tells you it is safe to do so. The faster flap healing occurs, the closer you will be to full recovery.
Symptoms of pain tend to peak about four days after surgery, according to an article published in Graefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology. You may have pain medications to help you move through this period, or you may find that staying in a cool, dark room and sleeping helps your eye pain to subside. If the pain grows severe, notify your doctor. You may need an examination to ensure that you are not experiencing a problem with your surgery site.
The machinery used during your procedure is sterile, and that should protect you from infection, but as your eyes heal, bacteria could invade the space below your flap and cause complications. To avoid that issue, the American Refractive Surgery Council recommends avoiding any sources of water that could be contaminated, such as the following:
- The ocean
- Swimming pools
- Hot tubs
You can shower the day after your surgery, but you should keep soap and other chemicals out of your eyes.
Makeup, lotions, and creams should also be eliminated from your routine for the first week or so after surgery. These additives can contain bacteria that could invade your healing eyes.
Your eyes will be under strain during the first few days after surgery, and your doctor may recommend that you stay away from work as you heal. You may also be encouraged to avoid activities such as reading, as they may be hard for you to complete. Attempting to read could make you worry about the effectiveness of your surgery, and that stress could raise your blood pressure and your risk of complications. Being nice to your eyes and resting them could help you move through this period with a lower level of stress.
You will see your doctor frequently within the first few weeks of surgery, and your doctor may give you additional instructions about medications, protective shields, sunglasses, and exercise. Follow all of those instructions carefully to ensure that you give your eyes the best opportunity to heal properly.
Intermediate Recovery: How to Support Your Healing
After the first month has passed, you will move into an intermediate stage of healing. Your eyes will be mostly healed, and you may not notice symptoms of pain or discomfort from your surgery, but your body is still working to repair the damage done by the procedure. It is vital for you to continue to protect your eyes, so you can ensure that this healing process continues.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends avoiding strenuous contact sports during the first month after surgery. Sports to avoid include but are not limited to Boxing, Football, Karate, and Basketball.
You should be able to return to the use of cosmetics and eye creams, but you should watch your eyes closely for signs of redness or irritation. If you notice symptoms after using a product near your eyes, discontinue that use and contact your doctor.
You will continue to meet with your doctor during this stage of your recovery, and you may have medications and eye drops to use to help keep your eye lubricated. Your doctor may have additional recommendations about activities you perform and how they might impact your eyes.
For example, your doctor might release you to return to work a week or so after surgery, but your vision may continue to fluctuate. If your job involves close work or computer work, there is a small chance of some difficulties. Your doctor may have advice to help you move through this period, or they may offer documentation for your employer, so you can stay home and allow your eyes to heal.
Long-Term Success: What to Expect
The American Refractive Surgery Council reports that full healing can take up to six months to complete. During that time, you may have fewer appointments to keep with your doctor, but you will need to continue to follow any instructions you are given. You may be told to continue to wear goggles to protect your healing corneal flap and to use eye drops to manage any lingering dry eye symptoms.
During this period, your vision will stabilize. According to research published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology, most people achieve a stable level of vision within the first month after LASIK, but a small number of people may take longer to heal.
Once the critical portion of your healing process is complete, your doctor will talk with you about solutions if your vision is not clear. You may need a touch-up surgery to bring images into sharper focus during this period if your original surgery did not deliver the results you expected.
If you work a sensitive job, you will likely be released to work, and you may also be encouraged to return to any athletic activities you enjoy. Once your eyes have healed, you can move back into the life you love without the use of glasses or contacts.
Blurred Vision: How Long Does It Last?
As discussed, LASIK is meant to help you leave glasses or contacts behind when you prepare to tackle routine tasks, such as house cleaning or gardening. You may expect crisp, clear vision immediately after surgery.
It is important to remember that LASIK is a surgery that involves an incision, and the body will need to heal after that surgery. The body's healing processes can involve inflammation, and that can impact clear vision. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, it is not uncommon for vision to remain blurry for several weeks or even months after LASIK.
Since this blurred vision is part of the body's healing process, there is little to nothing you must do to treat the issue. In most cases, this blurring will fade with time, although the amount of time it takes can vary from person to person.
For example, as research published in the journal Ocular Surgery News points out, some people have an unusual reaction to LASIK that can blur their vision. Tiny particles within the cornea are somehow stimulated by the laser, and those particles swell and block light from entering the eye. That can cause vision to seem blurry and images indistinct. Doctors can treat this problem with medication, but often, this is an issue that will go away as the surgery site heals and inflammation reduces.
Infections can also cause a blurring of the vision, especially if those infections involve bacterial colonies growing on the surface of the eye. Doctors can again use medications to address that issue, and they can use surgeries and irrigation to remove bacterial infections.
During your follow-up appointments, your doctor will look closely at your eye health and your surgical site. Ongoing monitoring by your doctor can help to ensure that problems can be treated early when they are less likely to become permanent. That is why keeping all of your follow-up appointments is so important. Your doctor will need your ongoing participation to ensure that your eyes are healing in a healthy, natural way. Skipping even one appointment could mean missing vital information.
In the years after LASIK, you may also notice a return of blurring. Your eyes can change with age, as the lens of the eye stiffens and the muscles that control the lens grow weak. This is a natural, age-related process that impacts portions of the eye not touched by LASIK. This age-related blurring cannot be considered a LASIK complication as a result, and it cannot be corrected by LASIK. Using thin "readers" while reading or doing close work could help you to combat these normal, natural changes to the eye.
Is LASIK Right for You? Talk With a Doctor
LASIK is considered a cosmetic procedure, meaning that your insurance company may not pay for the care you need. Surgery can be made affordable through discounts and payment plans, but this is still an investment in your long-term health. You will need to make a smart decision about your partner during this process.
Your surgeon will help to amend your vision, and you will stay connected to that surgeon as you heal. Make sure you choose a professional you can trust and ensure you work with a team that will give you the guidance you need as you heal. It is a big decision and one you should take seriously.
Post-LASIK Dry Eye. (January 2014). Expert Review of Ophthalmology.
Subjective Pain, Visual Recovery, and Visual Quality After LASIK, EpiLASIK (Flap Off) and APRK: A Consecutive, Nonrandomized Study. (October 2012). Graefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology.
Beyond Seeing Clearly: What to Expect With LASIK Recovery. (May 2016). American Refractive Surgery Council.
LASIK: What Should I Expect Before, During, and After Surgery? (July 2018). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Comparison of Visual Performance Recovery After Thin-Flap LASIK with 4 Femtosecond Lasers. (October 2017). International Journal of Ophthalmology.
Laser Surgery Recovery. (January 2017). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Acute Onset Bilateral Blurry Vision After LASIK Surgery. (September 2013). Ocular Surgery News.