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You researched LASIK. You talked to friends who had the procedure. You went to the initial consultation. You daydreamed about how easy life would be without glasses or contacts. You’re excited and eager to have your LASIK procedure, and now you want to know what to expect. This article explains what happens before, during and after LASIK from the perspective of medical experts and patients who had the procedure.

Before the Procedure

You’ve done the hard part: researching procedures, comparing providers, getting your eyes examined.

During your initial LASIK eye exam, the medical staff took detailed measurements of your cornea to determine two things: if you are a candidate for LASIK, and if so, what areas of your cornea need to be reshaped to correct your vision. The measurements are very precise and create what looks like a topographical map of your eyes. This allows the doctor to know exactly how much corneal tissue needs to be removed during the procedure. After your candidacy for LASIK is verified and your measurements are recorded, your’re ready to set an appointment for the LASIK procedure.

Once you’ve set a date, the pre-procedure routine is really simple. The most important preparation to make for the day of the appointment is arranging for transportation to and from the appointment, since you won’t be able to drive immediately after the procedure. If you wear contacts, you’ll probably need to switch to glasses two to four weeks before the procedure (depending on the types of contacts you wear). That’s about all that you need to do to get ready for LASIK.

During the Procedure

On the day of your procedure, expect to spend about 90 minutes at the LASIK center. This allows plenty of time for you to ask questions and be comfortable through every step of the process. The procedure itself lasts less than 15 minutes. Most dental appointments take longer.

Before you start, the doctor will go over the details of the procedure with you, so that you understand how the corrective process works, as well as the risks and possible complications.  The doctor will also have you sign a consent form.

Next, you’ll receive anesthetic eyedrops to numb your eye. This ensures you’ll experience minimal discomfort throughout the procedure. Then, you’ll recline in a bed-like chair with a special device between your eyelids to keep them open.

The doctor will ask you to focus on a point of light while a corneal flap is created. Depending on the type of procedure, and the center performing the procedure, this is done with either a laser or an instrument called a microkeratome. A microkeratome is an extremely small, thin oscillating blade that is machine-operated and extremely precise. Some LASIK providers have moved entirely to a laser to create the corneal flap because they believe it offers more comfort for patients and more precision, according to Sonny Goel, M.D., a LASIK doctor based in Baltimore.

The flap gives the doctor access to reshape your cornea with a computer-directed laser. The laser uses cool pulses of light — lasting one trillionth of a second — to evaporate a small amount of tissue, about one five-hundredth of the thickness of a human hair. The laser never penetrates the eye.

“The doctor talked with me throughout the procedure,” said Amie, a former LASIK patient. “It was comforting to hear about each step as it was completed.”

After the reshaping is complete, you will receive drops to help soothe your eye. Since corneal tissue has exceptional bonding abilities, no stitches are needed. Many patients notice an immediate improvement in their vision.

“I actually was a little nervous the day I came in for the procedure,” said David, former LASIK patient. “But the procedure honestly takes about 10 minutes. You’re in and out. You go home, take a nap and you can see.” 

“Most patients get up off the table and say, ‘if I knew it was that easy, I would have done it five years ago,’ ” said Sonny Goel, M.D., a LASIK doctor. “Many patients drive themselves to their follow-up appointment the next day.”

After the Procedure

“Although postoperative care is minimal, it’s important to rest immediately after the procedure,” said Dr. Goel. “I tell my patients to take the rest of the day off work, head home and relax.” 

Patients generally can return to work on the day following the procedure.  Some patients experience slight discomfort after the procedure (similar to having a dry contact or eyelash in your eye). This generally goes away within a day. A follow-up appointment the following day allows the doctor to check the work and ensure the procedure was a success.

Dr. Goel asks his patients to wear sunglasses the remainder of the day and provides special shields to wear while sleeping to prevent accidentally rubbing the eye.

“I noticed the difference right way. As I walked out of the office, I saw a car 30 yards ahead of me in the parking lot. I turned to my wife and read the license plate to her out loud,” said Joe, a LASIK patient. “I was completely shocked. I had worn glasses and contacts my entire life, and here I am able to see everything without lenses.”

Your LASIK provider gives you protective glasses to wear immediately following the procedure. You should also wear the glasses when you sleep for a week after the procedure and refrain from using lotions, creams and eye makeup for the same length of time. Your doctor will outline other precautions for the weeks following LASIK.

“I only had to take one day off. I was back to work the next day,” said Amie, a teacher who had the procedure. “There was no pain at all.”

Some patients choose to celebrate their improved vision by donating their old eyewear to charity. Regardless, it’s important to have additional follow-up appointments with your LASIK provider to monitor your vision and make sure you’re seeing as well as possible.

Of course, every LASIK case is different, and results can vary. The above provides a general overview of what you can expect during the LASIK procedure. Your LASIK provider and medical team can answer your specific questions about what to expect and provide additional details prior to your procedure.

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