In the final article from our series on laser eye surgery, we explain what to expect during your post-operative recovery period.
Once your procedure is complete and you are allowed to leave the laser suite, you will need a friend or relative to take you home. Your vision will be slightly blurry for several hours and you will be asked to rest for the remainder of the day, particularly if you have had sedation prior to surgery.
How fast your eyes recover after surgery depends on the type of laser vision correction procedure you have had. For all types of laser eye surgery, you will be discharged with eye drops (artificial tears, anti-inflammatory drops and antibiotic drops) and pain medication to help your recovery, along with goggles or eye shields to wear while you sleep, to prevent you from touching your eyes. Eye drops should be used as directed for at least one week and the goggles should be worn for a few nights.
LASIK has the fastest recovery period, with most patients being able to see 20/20 by the morning after surgery. This is because the procedure doesn’t disturb the top layer of the cornea, rather a flap is folded back and the layers beneath are lasered. Once the flap is replaced, vision stabilises quickly.
After resting at home, you’ll need to return to the clinic for your first review appointment to check the results of the surgery and test your eyesight. This may be later the same day or the next day, depending on the time of your surgery. For the vast majority of LASIK patients, this consultation shows that they are now able to drive without glasses or contact lenses. Don’t forget to visit the relevant licensing centre (e.g. RTA, VicRoads, TMR) to re-sit the visual exam and update the conditions of your driver’s license.
LASIK patients are able to return to most activities the day after surgery, including work and driving. However, after LASIK you must wait two weeks before swimming and a month before playing contact sports. Also avoid rubbing your eyes and wearing eye makeup for one week after surgery.
Though recovery is very quick, it’s normal to experience some symptoms that may cause minor discomfort after LASIK. The procedure can reduce the amount of watery tears your eyes make, so they may feel dry and/or gritty. This shouldn’t last longer than a few weeks. The eye drops you were discharged with will relieve these symptoms. In the days and weeks after surgery, you may also experience fluctuating vision and see halos around lights, which should eventually pass. Some people also experience light-sensitivity for up to a week and wearing sunglasses can help alleviate this.
Overall, for most patients, the recovery from LASIK is very fast with little or no discomfort.
After SMILE, the interface between the corneal flap and the underlying cornea takes a few days to settle down, so it typically takes two or three days for your eyes to recover and reach clear vision.
The recovery after SMILE is painless and SMILE causes less disturbance to the corneal nerves than LASIK and ASLA, so it is less likely that patients will experience dry eye or gritty sensations after surgery. Some light sensitivity and fluctuating vision in the first few weeks is also normal and will resolve.
You will need to visit your surgeon the day after surgery for your first post-operative consultation to check your eyes. Most people find that they can now drive without glasses or contact lenses after this appointment. Remember to make this legal by updating the conditions of your driver’s license.
After SMILE, you can return to everyday activities, such as light exercise, household chores and using a computer, within a few days after surgery. Some tasks that require critical vision (e.g. reading fine print, driving at night) may be difficult during the first few days. On day five after surgery, when the eyes have fully recovered, all activities can be resumed. This includes getting water in your eyes, swimming, physical activities, contact sports, wearing eye makeup and using eye creams. Indeed, many people choose SMILE because you can return to sports so soon after surgery.
While visual recovery after SMILE takes slightly longer than LASIK, it is still fast and this procedure gives you the freedom to resume sports and all other activities only five days after having a laser eye surgery procedure.
The recovery from ASLA is slower and more painful than LASIK and SMILE because the surface cells of the cornea have been dissolved and the cornea needs to grow a new layer of cells to replace them. Your eyes are likely to be very uncomfortable and sensitive for the first two days after surgery, but this will gradually subside. A bandage contact lens is worn to protect the cornea during healing and you’ll be given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drops and oral pain relief medication to help manage the discomfort.
You will have your first post-operative consultation the day after surgery and a second post-operative consultation on day four or five after surgery to remove the bandage contact lens. The eyes start to feel a lot better after the bandage contact lens is removed but can still be uncomfortable for up to a week. It is also normal to experience dry eye during the first two to three weeks after ASLA. Use the artificial tear drops you are given to help alleviate symptoms and help your eyes recover, even if they don’t feel dry.
After ASLA, vision can take a week or two to become functional enough for everyday activities. It generally takes around a week to return to activities such as work, wearing eye makeup, exercise and swimming, and you must avoid playing contact sports for two to four weeks. You can start to use a computer the day after surgery. However, most people find it uncomfortable to look at screens for a few days so it’s advisable to plan for some activities that allow you to rest your eyes (e.g. podcasts, audiobooks). Your doctor will tell you when it is safe to drive, which is normally around one week after surgery.
Though it takes longer to recover after ASLA, patients have great visual outcomes once vision stabilises.
After LASIK, SMILE and ASLA, further check-ups will be scheduled in the months following your surgery to keep track of your recovery and monitor your vision once it has stabilised. Occasionally, a second (enhancement) procedure may be recommended to further improve your vision after the initial operation.
After the different recovery processes, the outcomes from LASIK, SMILE and ASLA are the same. Most people have normal vision after laser eye surgery and are very happy with their result. Be patient over the days and weeks following your procedure, remember to use the eye drops and medications as directed to help your eyes recover as quickly as possible, and always check with your surgeon if you are unsure about when you can resume a particular activity after having laser eye surgery.
Once you are enjoying life free from glasses or contact lenses, the initial recovery period will seem like a distant memory.
All medical and surgical procedures have potential complications – check with your ophthalmologist before proceeding.
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