Focus on laser eye surgery

Posted on 15 November 2012

Dr Rob Daniel is an ophthalmologist at Mediclinic Morningside.

I’m about to have laser eye surgery. Should I be nervous?
No. The procedure has come a long way since it was first introduced 25 years ago. These days, laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis (Lasik) means virtually no discomfort, a shorter recovery time and better than 20/20 vision.

What are the risks involved with Lasik?
After three million surgeries have been performed in the US alone, the complication rate is close to zero. In fact, research has shown that wearing contact lenses for two years or more is more risky than having Lasik.

Is there anything I should avoid or do to prepare before the procedure?
If you wear contact lenses, you’ll be asked not to wear them for two weeks before surgery. Contact lenses change the shape of the cornea slightly, which could skew measurements.

What actually happens during laser eye surgery?
A wave-scan machine is used to map your cornea (or both of them, if you’re having both eyes done). In a painless five-minute process, the machine creates a three-dimensional map of how light enters and leaves the eye.

  1. A computer then captures an image of your iris.
  2. Once you’re lying down on a bed in the laser room, which is temperature- and humidity-controlled so as not to affect the beam’s movement through the air, a speculum is used to keep the eye open and your eyelashes are taped back.
  3. Anaesthetic drops are put into your eyes. These are highly effective and you won’t feel any pain. (This may be done while you’re still in the waiting area.)
  4. The femtosecond laser machine creates a microscopic flap on your cornea. This takes about seven seconds per eye. You will feel a small amount of pressure as a suction cup keeps your cornea in position.
  5. The total laser work usually takes less than a minute per eye.
  6. The surgeon then irrigates your eye, using fluid to float the corneal flap back into place.

Will I see or smell anything freaky?
It’s over very quickly and there’s not much to see. If you’re easily stressed you can request a sedative beforehand. And all you will smell is ozone, which is a gas produced when the laser comes into contact with your eye.

How quickly would I be able to notice a difference in my sight?
Within two hours of the procedure, 70% of patients have 20/20 vision. Generally you should be able to drive yourself to your check-up the next day, and go back at work three days later. But you’ll probably be advised not to swim, shower or go to the gym during the first three days after the surgery.

Will I need to wear an eye patch after surgery?
Most surgeons will tape on a clear eye patch or give you ski goggles to help protect the corneal flap while it’s healing, in case you try to rub your eyes unintentionally while you sleep. Eye drops may be recommended to ease initial scratchiness and help lubricate the eye during the first few weeks.

If you have questions on this or any other medical conditions or procedures, please comment below or visit Mediclinic’s facebook page via the link on the right.



The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Ophthalmology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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