Everything you need to know about LASIK eye surgery

March 8, 2022


Matt meets with his LASIK surgeon, Dr. Richard Davidson, for a follow-up appointment after his surgery and to ask any follow-up questions about LASIK eye surgery..
Mountaineer and pilot Matt Moniz benefited from LASIK eye surgery in Colorado. Here Matt meets with his LASIK surgeon, Dr. Richard Davidson, for a follow-up appointment after his surgery. Photo by Katie McCrimmon, UCHealth.

LASIK is the most common laser eye surgery to improve vision. To help answer your questions about LASIK eye surgery, we consulted with Dr. Richard Davidson, a specialist in cataract, cornea and refractive surgery at the UCHealth Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center.

Davidson, who also is a team doctor for the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, holds an endowed chair in eye care innovation and is a professor of ophthalmology, at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.

What is LASIK?

LASIK is a quick, outpatient procedure during which surgeons use highly precise lasers to reshape a person’s cornea and permanently improve their vision. LASIK stands for Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis. LASIK can give many people perfect vision and they no longer will need glasses or contact lenses (although normal aging may require reading glasses later in life).

Who can get LASIK?

Laser eye surgery works best for people who have healthy eyes (aside from basic vision challenges) and only have mild to moderate vision loss related to nearsightedness (seeing well up close, but not clearly in the distance), farsightedness (having good distance vision, but seeing less clearly up close) or astigmatism (a curvature of the cornea that distorts vision).

What does the laser do?

The laser allows the surgeon to safely reshape the tissue in the eye.

“It’s like cutting tissue without a blade,” Davidson said.

How long does it take to have LASIK surgery?

“It’s a very quick procedure,” Richardson said. “It takes about 15 minutes total: about five or six minutes per eye with the laser.”

I hear LASIK is minimally-invasive. What does that mean?

That’s correct. LASIK is minimally invasive. That means that patients don’t need any stitches or bandages after the surgery.

Is LASIK painful?

No. Surgeons use numbing drops during the LASIK procedure, so it’s usually not painful. Afterwards, people can feel some discomfort. But it’s typically mild.

Matt Moniz during an eye checkup with Dr. Richard Davidson. Davidson helps answer questions about LASIK eye surgery.
Pilot and mountaineer, Matt Moniz, now has perfect vision thanks to LASIK eye surgery. Dr. Richard Davidson checked Matt’s vision during a follow-up appointment after he got LASIK surgery. Photo by Katie McCrimmon, UCHealth.

What is the recovery from LASIK like?

Typically, recovery time is easy and straightforward. Due to the sedation given for surgery, patients can’t drive immediately after having LASIK, so a friend or relative needs to accompany the person. Some people experience temporary dryness in their eyes. But usually the dryness and discomfort go away within several weeks.

How does the laser work?

“We use two different lasers. The first cuts a flap in the cornea. Then we lift the flap. And the second laser removes tissue without generating heat. It reshapes the cornea. It’s amazing and works incredibly well,” Davidson said.

I hear that it’s common for people starting in their mid-40s to need reading glasses. Is that also true for people who have had LASIK?

Yes, people who have LASIK may still need reading glasses later in life. As people get older, their eyes age and it gets harder to focus on small print up close. This eye condition is called presbyopia and it’s very common for people in their 40s and older to need reading glasses. Most people who get LASIK eye surgery may still need reading glasses later in life. There are new eye drops, however, that are helping some people reduce the need for reading glasses. Learn more about these drops.

Are there people who should not get LASIK?

Yes. Only adults ages 18 and over can get LASIK. Other people might not do well with it including those with glaucoma or other eye diseases and those with unstable vision (meaning your prescription keeps changing). They include people with diseases who take medication that makes it harder for them to heal from wounds, like some people with diabetes or those with autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. People who already have dry eyes may want to avoid LASIK since it can cause further drying.

How long does LASIK last?

“For most patients, it lasts quite a few years,” Davidson said. “Most patients get excellent vision for 10 or 20 years.”

Can you get LASIK more than once?

Yes. If a person doesn’t get the results they were hoping for, oftens surgeons can go back with the laser and make adjustments.

Do you have to stop wearing contact lenses before LASIK surgery?

Yes. People who wear contacts will need to stop wearing them for a short period — about two weeks — in advance of their LASIK appointment.

Has LASIK improved over the years?

Yes. The lasers have gotten better and, as a result, so have the outcomes, Davidson said.

“The lasers are faster and they can blend better. There are fewer glares and halos. It has improved dramatically over the last 10 or 12 years,” Davidson said. “New versions keep coming out and it keeps getting better.”

Does LASIK cause light sensitivity?

When eye doctors started doing laser eye surgeries decades ago, some people experienced light sensitivity or saw glares, halos or bursts of light. Some also experienced double vision. Because the lasers and the precision have both improved so much, these side effects are now very rare, Davidson said.

Will my night vision be good with LASIK?

Yes. Most people who have laser surgery see great at night just like they do during the day.

If LASIK isn’t right for me, are there are surgeries that could be good options?

Yes. Some patients do better with a procedure called PRK or photorefractive keratectomy. This is another type of laser surgery where the doctor removes the outer layer of the cornea instead of creating a flap. The surgeon then reshapes the corneal tissue using the same laser used for LASIK. PRK can be a better option for people with thin corneas.

For people who are not good candidates for LASIK or PRK, surgeons can also perform a procedure that does not involve lasers. It’s called ICL which stands for intraocular contact lenses. In this procedure, the surgeon places an artificial lens inside the eye in front of the natural lens.

For patients with cataracts, cataract surgery can also give excellent visual results and freedom from glasses. During cataract surgery, the surgeon makes a small incision in the eye, removes the natural lens (cataract), and replaces it with an artificial lens. The artificial lenses come in many varieties, each offering patients different types of vision correction.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.