Does laser eye surgery hurt?

Laser eye surgery is an incredibly popular and straightforward procedure, which can improve your quality of life as well as your eyesight. Despite its proven benefits though, many people still worry that it is a painful procedure and consequently don’t investigate it as an option.

Despite the understandable worries about eye surgery, especially for those who have a fear of even touching their eyes, laser eye surgery is a painless procedure with minimal risks and a low level of discomfort afterwards. Depending on the type of laser eye surgery carried out, your experience will be different, so read on below to find out more about the different options and discover the truth about laser eye surgery pain.

How we manage laser eye surgery pain

If you’re concerned about laser eye surgery pain, it may be reassuring to learn that an anaesthetic is used at the start of the procedure in the form of eye drops. These contain a local anaesthetic that numbs the eye, allowing the procedure to take place without any pain. Some slight discomfort may be felt from the speculum that is used to keep the eye open, but this will soon pass and should not cause any pain in the eye.

Once the anaesthetic wears off, after the treatment is completed, some discomfort may be felt in the eye as it heals, and this will vary depending on the individual and the type of procedure used. So what are the differences between the types of laser eye surgery, and is one less painful than the others?

LASIK surgery

The most common type of laser eye surgery is LASIK, a popular treatment that takes around 15 minutes per eye, with a fast recovery time. So does LASIK laser eye surgery hurt? The simple answer is no. Thanks to the anaesthetic eye drops used and the expert surgeons who carry out the procedure, the surgery itself should be completely painless. This type of treatment has a fast recovery time, and the discomfort after the procedure is also minimal. Results can be expected in as little as 24 hours.

LASIK eye surgery involves using a femtosecond laser to direct microscopic pulses at the thin top layer of the cornea, causing bubbles to form underneath and a flap to be formed in the corneal tissue. The surgeon gently lifts this flap, so that the deeper layers of tissue are exposed. An excimer laser is then used to reshape the cornea, correcting any refractive errors in the eye. After this, the flap is replaced and left to heal by itself. This type of laser eye surgery can treat myopia (short sightedness), hyperopia (long sightedness) and astigmatism, as well as wave-front abnormalities. It is suitable for around 90% of patients.

LASEK surgery

For those who are not suited to the LASIK method, LASEK surgery is an excellent alternative. Reasons for undergoing this method include having corneas that are too thin or too flat for the LASIK treatment to be carried out. For anyone who is worried about laser eye surgery pain, the LASEK procedure also offers a painless experience through the use of anaesthetic eye drops.

During a LASEK treatment, your expert laser eye surgeon will use a gentle ethanol solution to soften the outer layer of the cornea, detaching it from the layer underneath. This outer layer can then be moved aside to expose the deeper corneal tissue, which is reshaped using an excimer laser. Once the refractive error has been corrected, the surgeon replaces the outer corneal layer, leaving it to heal.

Unlike LASIK surgery, bandage contact lenses will need to be worn after a LASEK procedure, to ensure that the eye heals properly. Bandage contact lenses are clear and should not cause any discomfort, but may need to be worn for up to a week, depending on the individual. During this time, discomfort may be felt in the eye while it heals, and results may take longer to develop than with other methods.

ReLEx SMILE surgery

The latest laser eye surgery technique is ReLEx SMILE, which is used to correct higher degrees of myopia, with or without astigmatism. This procedure is the least invasive of all, which may be perfect for those who are worried about laser eye surgery pain. Just as with LASIK and LASEK, anaesthetic eye drops are administered at the start of the procedure to ensure that no pain is felt at all during the surgery. Many patients feel most comfortable with this procedure, as it is fast and involves a kind of keyhole surgery that is less invasive than other options.

The SMILE procedure involves using a state-of-the-art Carl Zeiss VisuMax laser to direct a series of microscopic pulses at the centre of the cornea. These pulses form tiny bubbles, invisible to the naked eye, which indicate the tissue that needs to be removed in order for the cornea to be reshaped. The laser then creates a tiny hole, through which the tissue is removed. This quick, non-invasive technique means that the eye heals faster and that there is less discomfort after the procedure. Effects can be seen within hours of completing the surgery.

Side effects and risks

It’s only natural to worry about the risks and side effects of laser eye surgery, but in actual fact the risks are minimal. The truth is that less than 4% of people experience any kind of complications after surgery, and this risk can be minimised by following the surgeon’s instructions as closely as possible. Possible side effects include flap complications for LASIK surgery, although this is very unlikely to occur when using state-of-the-art laser equipment, as well as dry eyes and glare or halo effects.

Those who experience discomfort or dry eyes after their surgery should consult their surgeon, who will advise them on whether to use eye drops to ease these side effects. With regard to experiencing glare or halo effects in the vision, this can sometimes occur but will disappear over time. Patients who are worried about any side effects can phone the Optegra helpline on 0808 159 8046 or pay a visit to their clinic. 


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