Joel Hunter, MD Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 08/22/19 5:12 PM
Nearly everyone asks if LASIK hurts at all. Heck, long before people get the chance to be nervous about that, most show up nervous about the puff-of-air test for the eye. I’ve mentioned that test a few times. It is because I used to think that I was the only one that hated that thing, but later found out, as I became an eye doctor, that ALL of us hate that thing.
If you are lucky enough not to know what I’m talking about, there was a machine (It is mostly in obsolescence now, but I think some places still use one. We DON’T.) that you would look into and then the technician would say, “Keep your eye open and a puff of air will shoot into it without warning.” What? That’s like asking someone to hold their hands down while you throw a Frisbee at their face. It is unnatural.
I used to get a stomach ache on the way to the optometrist because I knew that test was coming. Anyway, I’m glad it is gone now. I won’t ever buy one even if I find one that has a genie inside.
Back to LASIK, the answer is that it doesn’t hurt. The full and honest answer is that it is an unusual experience that almost everyone I’ve ever met feels was ten times easier than they thought it would be.
If you're not convinced yet, read on.
Why LASIK is thought to be painful… but really, it's not
Patients with eye issues often read about LASIK being one of the most popular forms of corneal refractive surgery. And yet, the horror stories of how the surgery creates extreme discomfort, which cannot be relieved by over-the-counter medication keep on resurfacing like an urban legend that we have not outgrown.
True, the way lasers have revolutionized eye surgery wasn't an overnight success. Early patients had to endure the unknowns of the surgery – and I'm talking about those who survived the early keratomileusis procedure of Jos-Ignacio Barraquer in the 60s, Svyatoslov Fyodorov's radial keratotomy in the 70s, and Dr. Marguerite B. McDonald's photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) operation and Dr. Steven Trokel's excimer laser correction procedure in the late 80s. Heck, even those who had their LASIK surgery in the 90s with Dr. Stephen Slade and those whose eyes have undergone the procedure before the FDA approval in 1999 also had to deal with uncertainties.
There was a lot of trial and error back then. But you don't have to endure that today.
Just like any technology, the sophistication didn't stall. Innovation in the form of creating very thin flaps to attempt to fix complex eye problems continued to evolve. Then the femtosecond laser and wavefront technology became the crème de la crème of LASIK procedures.
But what did not change? The myths about LASIK surgery being painful. And I'll debunk each of these later.
Lasers in LASIK
There are two lasers, the first prepares your eyes and the second fixes your vision. The part that everyone remembers is the first LASIK laser because there is a pressure sensation with that one. It feels the same as if you’ve ever pressed the heel of your hand into your eye after a long day. It’s not painful, but an odd experience when your hands are resting peacefully by your side.
Post-operatively, the experience ranges from “it felt completely normal the entire day” to “I felt like I had sand in my eyes for two hours.” I was in the sand-in-the-eye category after my LASIK procedure. Basically my eyes watered and I didn’t want to open them and then they felt normal again. I thought that was what most people went through until I started seeing post-op LASIK patients. Then I realized I was in the minority and my eyes must be more sensitive than the average Joe. But exactly as sensitive as the sensitive Joe.
Does LASIK really hurt?
Long story short, if you Googled “does LASIK hurt?” and found this blog, it means that our clinic director was right that having a blog is helpful for search engine optimization. And the answer to “Does LASIK hurt?” is NO. LASIK is easy, fast and painless. And that is coming from someone that has been on both sides of the laser.
To understand what I mean, let me take you to the process.
Before the LASIK operation
Your preoperative preparation includes making sure that you have taken good rest and you're not wearing any makeup or perfume -- not even lotion! This is to prevent any irritation and infection after the procedure. It's a safety precaution that you must follow.
When you're in the surgery room, feelings of anxiety, tension, stress, worry and even restlessness may occur. Let's put an emphasis on the word "MAY" since most of my patients remain composed all throughout the procedure. Some were just too excited to see the results (pun intended). But if you need anti-anxiety meds, talk to your doctor about it before taking. It won't hurt to be more transparent, would it?
Then your eye doctor will put anesthetic eye drops to sedate the eye. You can relax, it's just the same eye drops used in common eye exams.
The eyelids will then be secured with a “blink protector.” It’s a device that keeps your normal blinks from interfering with your procedure, so you don’t have to worry about blinking! There's a little discomfort because it's something you're not used to doing, but not enough to make you feel any pain.
Pain During the LASIK surgery?
During the entire 15-minute operation, your eye will remain numb so the nerves in your eye won’t feel any of the procedure. A slight pressure on the eye while the first laser is being performed will be felt, however.
In case you're still wondering, "But what if I blink my eye during the procedure?" No sweat. LASIK was designed to accommodate even the twitchiest, blinkiest person alive.
Pain After the LASIK procedure?
A pair of big (and in my opinion, stylish) sunglasses will be used to protect your eyes. Once the eye drops' numbing effect wears down, you may start to feel a little dryness, mild burning but these are all tolerable and manageable. If some foreign body sensation recurs it will usually go away within days, weeks depending on your eye's recovery. You may also be asked to put on preservative-free tears to keep the eye from drying.
If there's any pain that cannot be managed in the entire LASIK procedure, I'd say that it's all in the mind. I mean that medically and literally. Extreme anxiety can cause you to squeeze your eyelids super tight, scrunching up your whole face. That causes your body to send high alert signals to the eye, which leads to a lot of burning sensation and light sensitivity that lasts a few hours.
If you've made up your mind to undergo LASIK, remember that most patients' experiences are focused on the fast recovery and the great effects of the procedure on their eyesight, and not on the idea that it may be painful because frankly, it's not.
Why you shouldn't worry about LASIK
If you still have fears as to whether LASIK can be painful or not, the best way to deal with it is to talk to your eye doctor. Ask him or her about your gnawing questions, explain your apprehensions and express your feelings. You need to hear the best pieces of advice, not so much to overcome your concern, but on how to match your perceptions with reality.
To allay your fears, I urge you to read my other answers to these pressing questions so you could feel confident the moment you walk into the operating room on the day of your treatment.
Debunking myths about LASIK being painful
Let's set the record straight on these myths that keep potential LASIK patients from getting the procedure done.
Myth: LASIK is very painful.
Fact: Not at all. LASIK is generally painless except for the tiny amount of discomfort you'll feel after the procedure. Don't worry, this is measured in hours, not days.
Myth: LASIK is more painful because you're awake throughout the procedure.
Fact: Your eye is numb because of the anesthetic eye drops. You won't feel any pain during the treatment. And you won’t be watching a bunch of “tools” come towards your eyes. It’s more like watching a light do a bunch of kaleidoscopic transformations.
Myth: LASIK can burn the eyes.
Fact: These lasers were designed not to burn the eye. The laser is what we call “functionally athermic,” meaning, it is invisible light and NOT heat that fixes your vision.
Myth: LASIK's side effects cannot be known.
Fact: Nope, not true. It's been around for some time and plenty of medical researches have been published about it. Talk to your eye doctor about the side effects. To cover our bases here, I’m assuming we’re talking about scientific data. If we’re talking in philosophical terms about the unknowable nature of the universe, then I’m not smart enough to have the conversation.
Myth: LASIK is more painful if you have astigmatism.
Fact: The procedure is carried out the same way whatever issue you have.
Myth: LASIK is less painful if the cost is higher.
Fact: Not necessarily. The success of your treatment depends on your eye doctor's capabilities, experience and even the equipment used. Choose a LASIK service provider that is qualified to cater to your eye's requirements. That said, in my experience there does seem to be a correlation in discomfort after PRK and low price providers.
Don't miss out on the opportunity of restoring a clear vision along with the many benefits of LASIK because of myths. Caution? Yes. Research? By all means. But don’t let myths keep you from finding out the truth.
LASIK may not be painful, but can it hurt your pocket instead?
I've been asked about the affordability of LASIK countless times already. My answer is and will always be the same: you shouldn't choose LASIK based on price.
Consider it as an investment to your health. If you can afford to replace your iPhone or buy a new car that would depreciate in two years, shouldn't your eye deserve a more deserving investment?
There’s no question that LASIK is a great personal investment but we understand that paying the whole cost out-of-pocket is sometimes impossible.
The good news, however, is that eye surgery cost in Orlando, Florida is now more affordable with a payment plan tailored to your tight budget.
At Hunter Vision, we fully understand the value of taking care of your eyes with or without the expensive treatment procedures. You get expert care from one of Florida's best eye doctors BUT without asking you to dig a hole in your pocket though our payment plan.
Your eyes are too important to try to save a few dollars. Go somewhere that charges enough for you to be comfortable throughout the process.
We see far too many patients who tried to save a few dollars elsewhere end up here to see if we can help. Most of our patients pay a bit over $130 per month at 0% interest for 24 months to change their whole world. I’d love to see you here, but I care way more that the place you choose is giving you all you deserve.
Our affordable payment plans for vision correction surgeries including LASIK can fit your tight budget. That's why we offer payment plans for as low as $130 per month - yes, that's not a typo - so you can start and end your day without your eyeglasses.
Author: Joel Hunter, MD is an Ophthalmologist, Refractive Surgeon, and the Founder of Hunter Vision, a LASIK Orlando Clinic in Florida. A recognized and respected specialist in vision correction who has performed a countless number of refractive surgeries, Joel gives lectures across the country and trains fellow doctors in the newest LASIK surgery techniques.