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. 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. (Learn more) 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. (Learn more) During the following six months, your eyes will continue to heal, and you will need to keep protecting the flap created during surgery. (Learn more)
Blurred vision is common immediately after surgery, but that issue tends to fade with time. If it does not, your surgeon can step in and help you to heal. (Learn more)
In order to help you understand what to do at each recovery stage, we will walk through the timeline step by step.
Table of Contents
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.
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 complication. 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 in active recovery, 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 the following:
You may 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, you may struggle to complete your tasks. 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 your eyes 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.
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 housecleaning 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 blurred 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 blurred 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's 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. We can help. Contact us, and we can help you find a surgeon in your area.
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.