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Is laser eye surgery painful?

If you are considering laser eye surgery, it is natural to worry if the procedure may be painful. The short answer is you won’t feel any pain during the surgery. Any discomfort during your recovery is usually managed with medication prescribed by your consultant.

Different types of laser eye surgery and what you will feel

Laser eye surgery techniques are broadly divided into, what we call, interfacial treatments performed just beneath the corneal surface, like LASIK or SMILE, and surface laser techniques such as LASEK or transPRK.

Whichever type of surgery is right for you, it will be performed under local anaesthetic drops that completely numb the surface of the eye. Surgery is typically short and takes just 10-15 minute for both eyes. Nervous patients can be given tablets to calm them prior to the surgery if they wish.

Interfacial techniques (LASIK or SMILE)

During LASIK or SMILE, patients do not feel pain. There is a brief moment lasting 30-40 seconds when the LASIK flap or SMILE lenticule is being created where patients feel a sensation of pressure on the eye. Some describe this as feeling similar to wearing a tight pair of swimming goggles. After LASIK or SMILE, there is normally about four to six hours of mild discomfort – a bit like wearing uncomfortable contact lenses. Having said that, most patients can return to work the day after surgery.

Surface techniques (LASEK or transPRK)

For patients having LASEK or TransPRK, there is no pain during the surgery either as the surface of the eye is completely numbed by local anaesthetic drops. After surface laser treatments, a bandage contact lens is placed on the surface of the eye to protect the surface while it heals in the first week after treatment.

Most patients will experience irritation and a feeling of grittiness in their eyes during the first two to three days after surgery. The level of discomfort after surface laser treatment will vary greatly and can be reduced by resting with the eyes gently closed and by using the eye drops we prescribe. The discomfort dissipates within a few days of surgery. As a general rule, we recommend a week off work to allow for recovery from surface laser treatments.

Mr Sajjad Ahmad

Written in association with

Mr Sajjad Ahmad

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon

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