What is ReLEx SMILE Eye Surgery?

3 June 2021

By Author: Amir Hamid

ReLEx® SMILE is an innovative form of keyhole laser eye surgery which can correct vision for people with higher degrees of short-sightedness. SMILE stands for Small Incision Lenticule Extraction, and is a bladeless procedure which is minimally invasive. SMILE eye surgery is suitable for people with or without astigmatism, and it can be a great alternative to the more well-known LASIK and LASEK treatments.

Read on to learn more about what SMILE laser eye surgery is, its benefits, who is suitable for the treatment and what to expect after surgery.

How does SMILE eye surgery work?

SMILE laser eye surgery is an innovative laser treatment using a state-of-the-art Carl Zeiss VisuMax laser. The procedure works as follows:

  • Firstly, your surgeon will administer anaesthetic eye drops to numb the eye, ensuring that the treatment is completely painless.
  • Next, the Carl Zeiss VisuMax laser is used to place a number of pulses on the cornea’s centre with extraordinary precision.
  • The pulses from the laser then create tiny bubbles, less than one-hundredth of the width of a human hair. These bubbles create the outline for the tissue that needs to be removed.
  • The laser creates a small connecting tunnel which allows the surgeon to draw out the tissue, therefore changing the shape of the cornea to improve your vision.

The whole procedure is completed in less than 15 minutes for both eyes, with the laser only being used for a small proportion of this time.

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    The benefits of SMILE laser eye surgery

    Now you know more about SMILE and how it works, let’s take a look at the benefits of this treatment and how it differs from other types of laser eye surgery.

    • More people are accepted for this type of treatment – SMILE is a minimally invasive form of laser eye surgery, which means that more people are suitable for treatment than with LASIK and LASEK. This is an important benefit for those who have been told they can’t have other types of surgery.
    • No chance of flap complications – One of the main differences between SMILE eye surgery and other options such as LASIK is that no flap is created during the SMILE procedure. This means there is no risk of complications such as the flap folding or moving, and it also means the eye is more comfortable after the procedure has taken place.
    • Quick procedure – As with other laser eye surgery procedures, SMILE is really quick.  The total treatment time is usually around 20-30 minutes.
    • Speedy recovery – Patients can expect to recover quickly after SMILE eye surgery, and experience less discomfort compared with methods such as LASIK due to no flap being created around the cornea. Unlike LASEK surgery, there are usually no bandage lenses required, although in some cases surgeons may ask you to wear them overnight as a precaution.
    • Fast results – Following SMILE eye surgery, vision typically improves by 80% within the first few hours, and reaches maximum improvement within a few weeks, according to trials carried out across the UK, Germany, France and Denmark. By comparison, LASIK typically gets results after around 24 hours, whilst LASEK can take a few days.
    • No dry eyes – You are much less likely to experience dry eyes after SMILE surgery than you would be with LASIK surgery, due to the fact that there’s no flap to heal.

    Who is suitable for SMILE treatment?

    SMILE laser eye surgery is suitable for a wider range of people than other techniques such as LASIK and LASEK. If you’ve been told you’re unsuitable for another type of laser eye surgery, SMILE could be a good alternative.

    For example, if any of the following circumstances apply to you, then you may find you are unsuitable for LASEK or LASIK treatment, but SMILE eye surgery could still be an option:

    • You have a thinner than average cornea
    • You have an intolerance to contact lenses
    • You have mild to moderate dry eyes

    Of course, to get a definitive answer as to whether this is the right treatment for you, you will need to book a consultation with one of Optegra’s experienced ophthalmic surgeons.

    What to expect after SMILE laser eye surgery

    After the SMILE treatment, vision is typically 80% better within a few hours, and reaches 100% improvement within a few weeks, according to trials. One thing you do need to be aware of is that, while recovery is quick, there is also the chance that your vision will temporarily be slightly blurry after the operation. This is completely normal, and at Optegra we provide comprehensive aftercare to give you peace of mind.

    Our laser eye surgery aftercare plans include an appointment the day after your surgery and then follow-up checks at intervals for up to 12 months afterwards. Aftercare appointments are an opportunity for you to raise any concerns you may have, and for your surgeon to check on your progress and assess whether any further treatment is required.

    Next steps

    Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of ReLEx® SMILE laser eye surgery, your potential suitability and the many benefits that are associated with this method of treatment.

    If you are thinking of having laser vision correction, the best thing to do is to book a consultation with an ophthalmic surgeon here at Optegra. Your surgeon will be able to tell you whether SMILE laser eye surgery is the best option for your requirements, and can provide tailored advice and answer any questions you may have.

    At Optegra, we make sure that the surgeon who carries out your initial consultation is also the one to carry out your treatment and any aftercare you might need, so you can rest assured that you’re getting the very best personalised care from start to finish.

    Amir Hamid Headshot

    By Author: Amir Hamid

    Mr. Amir Hamid is a Clinical Lead for Vision Correction and an expert refractive surgeon, based in London.

    Medically Reviewed Date: 16th August 2023


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