You had refractive corneal surgery to help improve your vision. This article tells you what you need to know to care for yourself following the procedure.
When You're in the Laser Center
You had refractive corneal surgery to help improve your vision. This surgery uses a laser to reshape your cornea. It corrects mild-to-moderate nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. You will be less dependent on glasses or contact lenses after the surgery. Sometimes, you will no longer need glasses.
Your surgery most likely took less than 30 minutes. You may have had surgery in both eyes.
If you had SMILE (small incision lenticule extraction) surgery there is less concern about touching or bumping the eye than with LASIK surgery.
What to Expect at Home
You may have a shield over your eye when you go home after surgery. This will keep you from rubbing or putting pressure on your eye. It will also protect your eye from being hit or poked.
After surgery, you may have:
- Mild pain, a burning or scratchy feeling, tearing, light sensitivity, and hazy or blurred vision for the first day or so. After PRK, these symptoms will last a few days longer.
- Red or bloodshot whites of your eyes. This may last for up to 3 weeks after surgery.
- Dry eyes for up to 3 months.
For 1 to 6 months after surgery, you may:
- Notice glare, starbursts, or halos in your eyes, particularly when you are driving at night. This should be better in 3 months.
- Have fluctuating vision for the first 6 months.
Self-care and Follow-up
You will probably see your health care provider 1 or 2 days after surgery. Your provider will tell you what steps to take as you recover, such as:
- Take a few days off from work after surgery until most of your symptoms get better.
- Avoid all noncontact activities (such as bicycling and working out at the gym) for at least 3 days after surgery.
- Avoid contact sports (such as boxing and football) for the first 4 weeks after surgery.
- Do not swim or use a hot tub or whirlpool for about 2 weeks. (Ask your provider.)
Your provider will give you eye drops to help prevent infection and reduce inflammation and soreness.
You will need to take care of your eyes:
- Do not rub or squeeze your eyes. Rubbing and squeezing could dislodge the flap, particularly during the day of your surgery. If this happens, you will need another surgery to repair it. Starting the day after surgery, it should be OK to use artificial tears. Check with your provider.
- Do not wear contact lenses on the eye that had surgery, even if you have blurry vision. If you had a PRK procedure your provider probably put contact lenses in at the end of your surgery to help healing. In most cases, these stay in place for about 4 days.
- Do not use any makeup, creams, or lotions around your eye for the first 2 weeks.
- Always protect your eyes from being hit or bumped.
- Always wear sunglasses when you are in the sun.
When to Call the Doctor
Contact your provider if you have:
- A steady decrease in vision
- A steady increase in pain
- Any new problem or symptom with your eyes, such as floaters, flashing lights, double vision, or light sensitivity
Nearsightedness surgery - discharge; Refractive surgery - discharge; LASIK - discharge; PRK - discharge; SMILE - discharge
American Academy of Ophthalmology. Preferred Practice Patterns Refractive Management/Intervention Panel. Refractive errors & refractive surgery - 2017. www.aao.org/preferred-practice-pattern/refractive-errors-refractive-surgery-ppp-2017. Updated November 2017. Accessed November 9, 2022.
Bhullar PK, Venkateswaran N, Gupta PK. Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis (LASIK). In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 3.4.
Mercer RN, Waring GO, Rocha KM. Current concepts, classification, and history of refractive surgery. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 3.1.
Salmon JF. Corneal and refractive surgery. In: Salmon JF, ed. Kanski's Clinical Ophthalmology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 8.
US Food and Drug Administration website. What should I expect before, during, and after surgery? www.fda.gov/medical-devices/lasik/what-should-i-expect-during-and-after-surgery. Updated July 11, 2018. Accessed November 9, 2022.
Review Date 8/22/2022
Updated by: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.