Guide to Recovery & Post-Operative Care after Laser Eye Surgery
Updated for 2023
You would be forgiven for asking what clever trick of evolution decided to place two of our most sensitive organs in one of the most vulnerable areas. I mean, few things are held more dear to us than our sight.
But, in all fairness, there is very good reason for eyes to be so exposed. After all, we need to be constantly receiving and processing visual data to create an accurate picture of the world around us – and to guide us through it. Therefore, placing the eyes in a central and high-up position makes sense. Let’s face it – they wouldn’t be much help if they were placed on our kneecaps or inside our gallbladder…
Nonetheless, this front and central position means they are also exposed to all kinds of dangers. From being wide open to the elements, to prone to eye pokes. Luckily, these impressive organs also come with some of the most powerful defensive and healing capabilities of our whole body.
They can guard against light and debris using an adjustable shield; fight against infections using a transparent layer of antibacterial fluid, and rapidly heal thanks to an unmatched ability to regenerate – to name just a few of these amazing defences!
While these defences are incredibly useful in everyday life, they also mean that your eyes are incredibly resilient to procedures designed to permanently improve your vision – such as Laser Eye Surgery.
As if that wasn’t enough, combined with the latest, minimally-invasive Laser Eye Surgery techniques, the healing power of your eyes helps to make the procedure quicker and more comfortable than ever. Most patients notice improved vision immediately after the procedure and can return to regular activities the very next day!
All in all, the majority of patients reach around 80% recovery in the first week.
A Guide to Recovery
While Laser Eye Surgery is one of the safest elective procedures in the world, it is still worth being as informed as possible about every step of the journey. With this in mind, we have put together this guide.
We will aim to tell you everything you need to know about the Laser Eye Surgery recovery process. From frequently asked questions to advice on high-quality aftercare – we’ve got everything you need to promote a smooth and swift recovery.
Unless stated, the information is based on patients who receive the most common Laser Eye Surgery treatment, LASIK. For more specific information get in touch with our team.
A Quick & Painless Recovery: Dealing with Discomfort after Laser Eye Surgery
Understandably, many patients have a natural fear of any kind of surgery. After all, experiencing some level of pain during recovery from a typical surgical procedure is unavoidable, right? Well, maybe – but Laser Eye Surgery is far from your typical procedure.
The minimally-invasive nature of Laser Eye Surgery, paired with the short procedure time means that there is often little sign that it ever happened. That is, apart from new, improved, and glasses-free vision!
The vast majority of patients don’t experience any pain* – either during surgery or during the recovery process. That being said, it is normal to experience some mild discomfort for the first few hours following the procedure. Your eyes may feel watery or sting a little, but this usually passes relatively quickly. Furthermore, many of the side effects experienced after surgery can be helped with the use of eye drops – which will be provided by your consultant and surgeon.
*While patients don’t tend to experience pain or soreness following LASIK, PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision, or ReLEx SMILE, patients do commonly experience discomfort after the more traditional alternative of PRK/LASEK.
The Beginning of The End of Reading Glasses: Recovery & Adaptation to PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision
PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision works a little differently from other laser treatments. Of course, that means that the recovery process is a little different too.
The length of time needed for complete recovery following PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision will vary from person to person. Largely, this will depend on how quickly your brain adapts to your new way of seeing.
Monovision essentially means that each eye is doing a different job: one focusing on distance, and the other on nearby items. This can be difficult to get used to (in fact, some people will never be able to adapt). In comparison, blended vision created by PRESBYOND® creates a ‘blend zone’ that is smoother and offers a greater depth of vision.
As a result, many patients can adjust to their new vision within a few weeks – especially after being approved for treatment after a comprehensive screening process. The likeliness of being approved for PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision is very high: /does-laser-blended-vision-work-for-everyone/ tolerate blended vision, compared with just over 60% who tolerate monovision.
Adapting to Your New Vision
Because of this, many patients adjust to their new vision within weeks. This is especially the case if you go through a comprehensive screening process and are deemed fully suitable for the treatment. This is highly likely as 98 per cent of people tolerate PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision, in comparison to just 60 per cent who tolerate monovision.
In rare cases, some patients may find that their distance or near vision isn’t quite right. But, not to worry – this is easily resolved with the help of some temporary spectacles. These ‘balancing spectacles’ can reverse the vision confusion without affecting your recovery and, better yet, you won’t have to wear them for long!
As we mentioned earlier, adapting to your new vision will take time: on average, adaptation to PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision takes from 6 weeks to 9 months and occasionally 12 months. For some patients, recovery will be faster, and for others, it may be a little slower.
Your surgeon will closely monitor your progress at your aftercare appointments. This helps to ensure that you and your new vision are adapting effectively and to be sure that your vision is the best it can be.
Getting Back on the Job: Managing Your Recovery in the Workplace
Weeks? Months? Over a year? These timeframes for heading back to work are not unusual after undergoing a typical surgical procedure. But, again – Laser Eye Surgery is not your typical surgical procedure.
This is made clear by the fact that the vast majority of patients are able to return to work in as little as 24 hours.
Most patients, however, choose to take around two days off from work (the day of the procedure and the day after). This will vary depending on the type of treatment, expected recovery rate, and whether you have a morning, afternoon, or evening procedure.
This is generally enough time after having LASIK, ReLEx SMILE, or PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision. However, you may need to take a little longer if you are having LASEK/PRK – we usually recommend around seven days.
No matter how long you decide to take off work following your treatment, though, there are a few things to bear in mind for your return to work and recovery.
Returning to Work
Technology has become a huge part of working life for many people. It is now common to spend large amounts of time inside, staring at screens, and so, the main thing we advise is that you keep your eyes well lubricated with drops – particularly if working with computers and/or in an environment with air conditioning that can dry your eyes out. You will be provided with eye drops following your procedure.
It is also recommended that you take extra care if working, for example, on a construction site, where there is a heightened risk of dust or debris entering the eye. Again, safety glasses and other adequate precautions need to be taken to avoid this from happening and causing irritation or any unnecessary complications.
And suppose you happen to be one of the lucky ones working outside in a sunny environment. In that case, wearing sunglasses with 100% UV protection is a must for the first few weeks of your recovery and is generally good eye care advice after that.
The Road to Better Vision: Getting Back in the Driver’s Seat after Laser Eye Surgery
Another major consideration of your recovery is knowing when it is safe to get back behind the wheel. Your eyes are pretty crucial to the safety of yourself and others when driving. Therefore, you might think that you will have to wait quite a while after your treatment before getting back in the driver’s seat.
So, it might surprise you to learn that the majority of patients can drive in as little as 24-48 hours after their treatment.
For many, getting back behind the wheel after their treatment can be a profound experience. After all, they are now able to see the open road in front of them with freshly improved vision – along with the liberation of driving without their glasses.
Again, exactly how quickly you will be back driving after your Laser Eye Surgery will depend on the kind of treatment you have and the clinic you attend. At London Vision Clinic, over 95% of LASIK patients are up to the legal driving standard or better on the first day after surgery.
This is typical for patients undergoing most treatments (except for PRL/LASEK). You will get a better idea of when you can expect to start driving again during your consultation with your surgeon the day after your treatment. In many cases, patients are found to be safe to drive there and then.
Getting Back Behind the Wheel
While you may be signed off to drive, it is recommended that you stick to driving short distances and be aware of things like starbursts and halos around lights when driving at night – particularly in the first few days after your treatment.
Side effects such as starbursts and halos are to be expected as your eyes recover after surgery (though most people will experience such side effects very mildly and may not even notice them at all). We will go into common side effects of Laser Eye Surgery in more detail further down the page.
So, it will probably bring you some relief that you will likely be back to driving in no time. But, that prompts another question: What are you to do in the 24 hours immediately after your procedure?
Well, we advise all our patients to take a back seat and relax during this period. This typically means taking a taxi or convincing a family member or friend to drive you home after your treatment and bring you back for your first-day aftercare appointment. Why not take this as an opportunity to chill out and have your loved ones run around for you?
The Dreaded No-Screen Period: Getting back to Your Devices after Laser Eye Surgery
After undergoing surgery, one of the few things that you can at least look forward to is lounging around on the sofa, binge-watching your favourite TV series. Unfortunately, the same is not true after Laser Eye Surgery.
Immediately after Surgery
Immediately after your treatment, there is a strict period in which it is recommended to avoid all screens – smartphones, tablets, laptops, e-readers and, yes, TVs. Even the good old-fashioned pastime of sticking into a good book is not recommended.
This might sound like hell – but, don’t be put off just yet. This dreaded no-screen period is often more than 24 hours, starting the moment you sit up after treatment. What’s more, the stricter you are and the further you stay away from your screens, typically, the shorter and smoother your recovery period will be.
A lot of us are becoming increasingly aware that we need to take a break from our screens – whether for our mental health or to prevent eye strain. But a whole day of not working on your computer or even passing the time by scrolling through Instagram, what are you to do instead?
Yet, for these 24 hours, it is advised to simply put your feet up and spend some quiet time in a relaxed environment. Try putting on your favourite playlist and unwinding – free from harsh lights and screens. This fits in with the standard aftercare routine in which patients tend to take two days off work — the day of the surgery and the following day — and use the time to rest and get used to their new vision and eye drop routine.
The Coming Weeks
When the no-screen period finally comes to an end, there are a few things you should keep in mind before diving back in at the deep end. It is recommended to gently ease your way back into using your screens – particularly if you usually spend a lot of time at a computer.
Most importantly, staring at screens can cause your eyes to dry out, so ensure you have your lubricating eye drops on hand at regular intervals throughout the day.
It’s generally good advice to limit your usage of screens as much as possible. A good way to do this is by chunking the time you spend on them into 25-minute blocks using the Pomodoro method.
Swimming, Saunas, & Sumo Wrestling: Exercise & Bathing after Laser Eye Surgery
For many people, at least part of the driver behind having Laser Eye Surgery is to improve their opportunity and ability to engage in sport and exercise. Whether they are looking to level up their skill in activities like golf, pool, archery, or tennis, or simply want to avoid the irritation of getting sweat under their contacts or having their glasses flapping around when attending the gym or going for a jog.
While Laser Eye Surgery might – at least in the long term – appear to answer all of their concerns, many may assume that treatment will mean taking a prolonged period away from their favourite sport. Yes, all patients will indeed be advised to avoid exercise or sports for a while after surgery. But, the fact is, most patients only have to avoid activity for a short period.
Immediately after surgery
Following Laser Eye Surgery, your eyes naturally go through an inflammatory and healing process. As a result, they will, for a time, be a little more sensitive than usual. During this time, you will want to do everything you can to help promote a smooth and fast recovery.
For example, refraining from strenuous activity or any activities that could cause sweat, dust, or debris is highly recommended. Simple adjustments like taking a bath instead of a shower until 24 hours after your surgery can be very effective. It is also a good idea to put a hold on any plans involving saunas, steam rooms, or jacuzzis.
For the same reason, we also advise that you don’t participate in any sports or exercise until about the third day after your treatment. Don’t worry, though – light activities such as walking and stretching are typically fine in this period. These guidelines are more a precaution than anything — and come day three, the chances are, you’ll be able to return to activities such as jogging, stationary cycling, and lifting small weights.
The Coming Weeks
As the cornea will still be in recovery mode for the first few weeks, it’s crucial at this time to< avoid any sweat in your eyes and to refrain from rubbing them. By the second week, the tissue of the cornea will have healed further, making it safe to take part in sports such as tennis, squash, swimming, mountain biking, and skiing (while wearing the appropriate eye-wear).
your particular sport or activity.
On the Tube & In the Air: Travelling after Laser Eye Surgery
Travelling is another important consideration for your recovery period. Whether it’s hopping on the tube or jetting off for an international business trip (or better yet, a holiday), it is essential to be aware of the guidelines that might affect your plans following Laser Eye Surgery.
Generally, it is advised to keep travelling to a minimum – at least for the day of your treatment. Ideally, nothing more than strolling between the couch, kitchen, and your bed.
For most people, just a few hours is sufficient for your vision to be well on the way to recovery. The flap on your cornea will likely have healed and blurriness might already be improving. But, while you might feel ready, it is important to remember that your eyes are still in the recovery process. That’s why we recommend taking it easy and putting your feet up for at least a day.
So, when can you get back to travelling?
Due to the high level of dust and micro-particles that infest the air on the tube, it’s strongly advised to avoid using it for the first few days, and even for the rest of your life if possible (just kidding, it’s not that bad).
For the lucky or not-so-lucky ones who have a plane to catch, there’s no need to cancel or reschedule your flight. Following your first-day aftercare appointment, pretty much all patients are signed off as suitable to fly. But, as your eyes will be sensitive and the cabins on planes are notoriously dry, it is essential to have your lubricating eye drops on hand to keep your eyes moist and comfortable.
Looking Glamorous: Wearing Makeup after Laser Eye Surgery
For some patients, worries about not being able to wear makeup for the days and weeks following surgery is enough to put them off right then and there. But, not so fast!
While it is true that you will have to avoid certain types of makeup for a week, this doesn’t apply to more general types of makeup, such as concealer, foundation, lipstick and blush. These products need only be avoided for the first 24 hours after your treatment.
Eye makeup, such as mascara, eyeshadow, and eyeliner – or any other products that surround or come near the eye – should be avoided for around seven days.
Fancy a drink?
In the name of clarity, let’s state immediately: We are talking about alcohol here – not water or tea (both of which are encouraged, by the way).
It’s no secret that alcohol and surgery aren’t generally a good mix. Yet, this is one of the most common questions we’re asked. That’s why we decided to create a comprehensive guide to alcohol and laser eye surgery. To briefly summarise, however, it is best to avoid it immediately beforehand and for 24 hours afterwards. Nonetheless, we recommend that you read the complete guide.
The Laser Eye Surgery Recovery Timeline & Aftercare Guidance
For the vast majority of our patients, recovery from Laser Eye Surgery is rapid and trouble-free – as we mentioned, most people can be back to their regular routine the very next day. Nonetheless, it is standard procedure to attend a series of aftercare appointments over the 12 months following your treatment.
When attending high street providers, aftercare appointments tend to be excluded in the cost of treatment. But, these appointments are an essential part of Laser Eye Surgery and, as such, most independent and private clinics, will include these in your package. It is best to check your clinic’s terms and find one that takes aftercare seriously.
Your first aftercare appointment will be the day after surgery. This will typically be followed by another appointment at 3-4 weeks, 3 months, and one year, though it will vary between individuals. During these appointments, your optometrist will guide you through tests to check your vision and answer any questions you have regarding your recovery.
Below, we will go into detail about what makes a high-quality aftercare program. But first, let’s take a look at the recovery timeline of a typical patient undergoing LASIK treatment.
It’s slower for LASEK/PRK and a little faster for ReLEx SMILE. As mentioned above, there is also a period of adaptation after PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision.
The full Laser Eye Surgery recovery process typically lasts about three to six months. But don’t be disheartened: this is only the time it takes until your eyes and vision reach 100% of their potential and for the dry eye symptoms to resolve. In just the first few days following treatment, your vision will improve to near-optimal levels.
The first 24 hours
- Immediately following the procedure, you’ll notice improvements in your vision.
- For the first few hours, your vision can be a little foggy or blurry, so rest and keep your eyes closed during this time.
- It’s advised to get picked up from the clinic by a friend or family member. Later in the day, we strongly recommend not taking the underground, but taxis and overground trains are permissible.
- You can return to light activity in the home, but be careful to avoid doing any activity that could lead to something touching or poking your eyes.
- To prevent eye strain and ensure a speedy recovery, avoid all screens — TV’s, smartphones, tablets, computers, e-readers — and any activities like reading that require intensive use of your eyes.
- Take a bath instead of a shower to prevent soap and water irritating your eyes.
- Use the time to get into a good drop routine and recognise things like air conditioning that can dry out your eyes.
- You may experience mild itching or dryness. Avoid rubbing your eyes and get relief using the lubricant drops instead.
- Avoid alcohol. Sorry.
The next day
- The day after your treatment, you’ll visit the clinic for your first-day aftercare appointment. The surgeon will check everything is going smoothly and sign you off to resume most day-to-day activities.
- We advise asking a friend or family member for a lift to the clinic. Again, grabbing a taxi or taking the overground is okay but not the Tube.
- You can read and watch TV as long as you use the lubricating eye drops provided to stop your eyes from drying out.
- You can return to work but be sure to use the proper safety eyewear and, if using a screen, to keep your eyes well lubricated with the drops.
- Flying is again okay, but keep the eye drops on hand as the air is very dry inside the cabin.
- Lathering up in the shower is back on the cards, although the same caution is advised.
- You can expect to see halos and starbursts around lights at night. These will gradually go down as the swelling in the cornea reduces.
- You can have a glass of wine or a beer to two, but take it easy.
- By this time, the cornea has regained much of its strength and you can hit the gym and do light exercise like jogging, stationary cycling, and lifting light weights.
- It’s important to prevent anything like sweat from getting into your eyes and to avoid rubbing or touching them.
- Wearing light make-up and perfume or aftershave is allowed.
- As your eyes continue to heal over the next week, some blurriness and fluctuation in vision may occur. Take extra care, especially when driving in low light conditions. Temporary glasses can be prescribed to help you cope during the first few months as the refraction settles down.
- Apart from avoiding vigorous exercise and having to take a bit more care of your eyes than usual, life is pretty much back to normal.
- Any effects like night glare gradually disappear over the next few weeks and will continue to be assessed at your 3-4 week and 3-month aftercare appointments.
- It is once again safe to engage in sports like swimming, football, tennis, squash, mountain biking, scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing, and skiing (with the appropriate eye-wear).
- Avoid high-impact sports such as rugby, boxing, martial arts, water-skiing, and extreme sports until at least one month after the procedure.
- You can wear eye makeup again, although some caution is still advised.
- The clinic will be on hand if you are unsure whether it’s safe to resume certain activities.
- Some people may experience dry eye symptoms for a few months after their treatment. These are managed with drops and gradually reduce as the days go by.
- A few restrictions remain, such as avoiding sun beds for the first 6 months.
- You will have aftercare appointments at the 3-month mark and a final check-up after 12 months.
This is What High-Quality Aftercare Looks Like
We believe a Laser Eye Surgery aftercare should be included in the price of any treatment. This is usually a sign of a clinic that cares about its patients. But beyond that, how do you know if the aftercare program is actually any good?
Besides regular checkups at the clinic every few weeks and months, here are a few of the main things to look out for in spotting a high-quality aftercare program.
24/7 Aftercare Availability
Although it’s extremely rare to need your surgeon at the drop of a hat, aftercare guidelines should permit you to contact them no matter the hour or how long after the treatment.
This may mean being able to reach a team of patient care coordinators via email, or even having access to the surgeon’s personal phone number. However well your recovery goes, everyone has questions throughout the process, so this one is a must.
Caring and Knowledgeable Staff
Having any surgery is a somewhat daunting prospect for anyone. Therefore, it goes without saying that you want to be in the hands of highly trained and experienced surgeons and staff. And this is true not only in the run-up to and during the procedure, but afterwards, too.
The clinic consultants and surgeons should be on hand to help both at appointments in the clinic and to provide you with the proper at-home guidance. For instance, this might mean advising you on things to avoid, how to properly care for your eyes, and how soon you can return back to specific activities.
Treating You as a Lifelong Patient
Like the rest of our bodies, our eyes change over time. High-quality Laser Eye Surgery clinics understand this. As a result, they will never treat you as a one-time patient. From day one, you will be treated as a lifelong patient, with support and resources to match.
Clinics do this not only by making sure you know you can connect with them years after treatment, but also by providing you with highly personal and tailored care. Head massages, complimentary chocolates, and authentic relationships with genuinely caring staff are just some of the ways the best of the best ensure you never feel like you’re just another number and pair of eyes to be processed.
Dealing with the ‘Side Effects’ of Laser Eye Surgery
The removal os corneal tissue from the eye is sure to trigger the body’s natural healing responses. Inflammation and swelling are a normal part of this response – which can have some mild and temporary effects on your vision.
However, this swelling will not be apparent to the visible eye. Any effects you experience – if any at all – will gradually fade away over the coming days and weeks. Your consultant and surgeon will also keep an eye on them – pun intended – at your 3-4 week aftercare appointments.
With that out of the way, here’s a run down of the few ‘side effects’ that patients may experience after Laser Eye Surgery. They include dry eyes, light sensitivity, vision fluctuations, and some night glare like halos and starbursts.
Of all the temporary effects of Laser Eye Surgery, dry eye is the most common. This is why we provide all our patients with lubricating eye drops. You can learn more in our comprehensive guide to Dry Eyes.
It is advised to keep your eyes well lubricated with the eye drops. This includes using them whenever you feel any mild discomfort or irritation, for instance, when in an air-conditioned room or using a screen for prolonged periods. Dry eye symptoms usually resolve within 3-6 months, but in some cases, they can persist for up to a year.
Patients who have ReLEx SMILE treatment generally experience reduced levels of post-operative dry eye and discomfort, thanks to the minimally-invasive technique.
Some light sensitivity is to be expected after Laser Eye Surgery. For most people, this will reduce within the first 12-24 hours. During this time, we recommend you avoid overly bright, harsh lighting and wear sunglasses if it’s sunny out.
You’re likely to experience some blurred vision immediately after the procedure. This will soon decrease as your vision stabilises. It’s also not uncommon to find that your vision may vary or fluctuate over the first week after surgery — this is a normal part of the healing process and is nothing to worry about.
Halos and starbursts
These glare effects result from the swelling that occurs after surgery. Therefore, it is generally expected that every patient will experience them to some extent, however, they will soon disappear as your vision settles.
Have any burning questions about Laser Eye Surgery recovery that we missed? Would you like to find out some specific information regarding your prescription or a particular treatment? Get in touch; we’d be happy to hear from you.