Guide to Recovery & Post-Operative Care after Laser Eye Surgery

Updated for 2024

Most of us rarely, if ever, stop and think about how incredible our eyes are. It’s easy to take our vision for granted, given that we use it every day for almost every task and job we ever perform. But it’s also easy for us to forget just how sensitive they can be. However, once a stray eyelash finds itself stuck in there, we become acutely aware of this sensitivity and we may wonder what trick of evolution decided to place one of our most sensitive organs in one of the most vulnerable areas on our bodies. 

Of course, there is a good reason for this. Our eyes have evolved to provide our brains with a constant feed of information about the world around us. So, a central and high position is the best place for them – I mean, they wouldn’t be much help to us if they were located on our kneecaps…

Nonetheless, this front and central position does leave them exposed to all kinds of dangers. Luckily, our eyes have some of the most impressive defensive and healing capabilities of our whole body – something that we see during the Laser Eye Surgery recovery period.

While the eyelids provide an adjustable shield against light and debris, a transparent layer of antibacterial fluid is designed to fight off infections. Furthermore, thanks to an unmatched ability to regenerate, our eyes have rapid healing powers. These defences can prove incredibly useful in everyday life, but they also make our eyes resilient to other more extreme situations – including surgery.

This healing power, combined with the latest techniques, makes Laser Eye Surgery recovery quicker and more comfortable than ever before. Most patients notice an immediate improvement in their vision and are back to their regular activities the very next day!

A Guide to Laser Eye Surgery Recovery

Laser Eye Surgery is now one of the most commonly performed – and safest – elective procedures in the world. Nonetheless, if you’re considering treatment, it is important to be as informed as possible about every step of the process. With that in mind, we’ve put together this extensive guide to recovery and post-operative care after Laser Eye Surgery.

From frequently asked questions to advice on aftercare – we’ll be covering everything you need to know for a smooth and swift recovery.

Unless stated, this 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: Managing Discomfort after Laser Eye Surgery

It is only natural to experience some apprehension, and even fear, when awaiting surgery. After all, some pain is to be expected after a typical surgical procedure, right? Well, maybe. But thankfully, Laser Eye Surgery is far from your typical procedure.

Thanks to ongoing developments, Laser Eye Surgery is an extremely quick and minimally invasive procedure. In fact, there is often little sign that you have had a surgical procedure at all! Well, apart from the new, improved, and glasses-free vision.

Most patients are surprised at how pain-free* both the procedure and recovery process really are. While it is normal to experience some discomfort in the hours following the procedure (your eyes may feel watery and sting a little), this stage usually passes relatively quickly. Furthermore, simple aftercare steps such as using painkillers and eye drops are usually sufficient in providing relief. These will be provided by your clinic as part of your aftercare package.

*While patients don’t tend to experience pain or soreness following LASIK, PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision, or ReLEx SMILE, discomfort may be more significant after the more traditional alternative of PRK/LASEK.

Say Goodbye to Reading Glasses: Recovery & Adaptation to PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision

At London Vision Clinic, we can now offer PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision as a solution to presbyopia. This procedure works a little differently than other laser treatments as each eye is corrected in a different way. Of course, that means that the recovery process is a little different too.

The length of recovery following PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision will vary from person to person. This largely depends on how quickly your brain can adapt to your new way of seeing. However, this innovative new procedure is significantly more well-tolerated than other treatments for presbyopia – namely, monovision.

Adapting to Your New Vision

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, it is estimated that only 60% of patients will tolerate monovision). In comparison, PRESBYOND® creates a ‘blend zone’ that is smoother and offers a greater depth of vision. As a result, up to 97% of patients are able to tolerate treatment.

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.

In rare cases, some patients may find that their distance or near vision isn’t quite right after treatment. Thankfully, this can be easily resolved with the help of some temporary glasses. Known as “balancing spectacles” these aids can reverse vision confusion without affecting your recovery – and better yet, you only have to wear them for a short period!

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 up to 12 months. For some patients, recovery will be faster, and for others, it may be a little slower.

Your progress will be closely monitored by your surgeon during your aftercare appointments. These meetings help us to ensure that you are successfully adapting to your new vision and that your vision is the best it can be.

Getting Back to Work: Managing Your Recovery in the Workplace

Many surgical procedures can essentially put you out of the workplace for days, weeks, or even months. But again – Laser Eye Surgery isn’t your typical surgical procedure. Many patients are surprised to learn that they could be headed back to work in as little as 24 hours!

Of course, many patients feel more comfortable taking around two days off from work (the day of the procedure and the day after. This allows them to attend their post-operative appointment at the clinic and relax a little before getting back to the grind.

The actual time you take away from work can depend on several factors, including the type of treatment you have, your expected recovery rate, and whether you have a morning, afternoon, or evening procedure. A couple of days is generally enough time to sufficiently recover after LASIK, ReLEx SMILE, or PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision. However, you may need to rest a little longer if you are having LASEK/PRK – we usually recommend around seven days.

But no matter how long you decide to take off work after your treatment, there are a few things you will need to bear in mind for your return to work and your general recovery.

Your Return to Work

For many people, digital screens have become an unavoidable part of working life. We now spend much of our day – whether at work or at home – staring at screens. Unfortunately, this can put significant strain on our eyes, causing dehydration and irritation. For this reason, we advise that you keep your eyes well lubricated with eye drops – particularly when working with computers or in a dry environment (such as air-conditioned rooms). We provide you with unlimited eye drops throughout your recovery, free of charge!

You should also take extra care if you work in an environment where there is a heightened exposure to dust or debris, such as a construction site. Precautions, such as wearing eye protection, should be taken wherever possible to prevent dust and other particles from entering the eyes. This could lead to irritation and unnecessary complications, such as infection.

Finally, if you’re lucky enough to work outside in a sunny environment, wearing quality sunglasses with 100% UV protection is a must for the first few weeks of your recovery. In fact, this is generally good eye care advice to follow at all times!

The Road to Recovery: Getting Back in the Driver’s Seat after Laser Eye Surgery

Getting back behind the wheel after Laser Eye Surgery can be a profound experience. With your new and improved vision – along with your liberation from your glasses and contact lenses, you might find that you can see the road ahead of you more clearly than ever before.

If you rely on driving, whether for work or your personal life, you are probably anxious to learn when you will be able to get back behind the wheel. Well, the good news is, it will probably be sooner than you think.

Let’s face it, your vision is pretty crucial to the safety of yourself and others when it comes to driving. So, it’s extremely important that you do not start driving before you have been signed off to do so. In many cases, this will be in as little as 24-48 hours after your treatment!

Again, exactly how quickly you will be back to your regular driving routine after your procedure will depend on the type of treatment you have and the clinic you attend. However, 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 also typical for patients who have other kinds of treatment – with PRK/LASEK being the exception. You will get a better idea of when you can expect to get back behind the wheel during your next-day consultation with your surgeon. But, in many cases, patients are signed off to drive there and then!

Getting Back Behind the Wheel

So, you’ve been to your post-operative consultation and have been signed off to drive. Excellent news! However, it is still 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.

Night glare side effects such as these are relatively common side effects after Laser Eye Surgery. Thankfully, most people will have only mild symptoms, while others might not notice them at all! We will take a closer look at Laser Eye Surgery side effects later on in this guide.

Alternative Arrangements

You will likely be relieved to learn just how short your driving ban might be. But that does beg another question: What are you supposed to do in the meantime?

We advise all patients to relax as much as possible in the 24 hours following the treatment. Still, you will need to get back home or to your hotel after your procedure and back to the clinic the next day. This typically means you will need to ask a family member or friend for a lift or two or arrange for a taxi. Our clinic coordinators are also happy to help you make alternative travel arrangements!

The No-Screen Period: Getting Back to Your Devices after Laser Eye Surgery

During your recovery from other types of surgery, perhaps a small comfort is being able to lounge around, catching up on your favourite TV series. Unfortunately, following Laser Eye Surgery, you will have to take a break from these home comforts.

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

Straight after your procedure, there will be a strict no-screen period during which it is strongly recommended that you avoid all screens, including phones, tablets, computers, and TVs. It is even advised that you forego the good old-fashioned pastime of getting stuck into a good book!

This might sound undesirable – and boring. But don’t worry just yet. The dreaded no-screen period often lasts no more than 24 hours – and we’re confident that your new, glasses-free vision will be well worth it. What’s more, the better you adhere to these rules, typically, the quicker you’ll be back to your regular, screen-filled life!

Still, while many of us are increasingly trying to take more breaks from our screens – whether to manage eye strain or for our mental health, finding alternatives is not always easy. So, if you’re not catching up on work on your laptop, binging the latest Netflix series, or scrolling through Instagram – what are you going to do?

Well, for the 24 hours after Laser Eye Surgery, at least, the best thing to do is simply to put your feet up and enjoy some relaxation time. Try putting on your favourite playlist, taking the time to listen to an audiobook and embrace this period of no screens! This will fit in well with the standard aftercare routine in which most people will spend two days away from work – the day of the procedure and the day after. It will also give you a chance to slowly get to know your new vision and eye drop routine.

The Coming Weeks

Once the no-screen period is finally over, you might be tempted to get right back into your routine; however, there are a few things to keep in mind before diving back in at the deep end. In the days and weeks after your surgery, it is recommended that you ease yourself back into using your screens – particularly if you spend a lot of time working at a computer.

This is because excessive screen time can trigger dry eyes – something that you will already be at higher risk of following your procedure. So remember to keep your lubricating eye drops at hand and try to limit your screen time as much as possible. A good way to do this is to only spend 25-minute blocks at a screen at a time, using the Pomodoro method.

Swimming, Saunas & Sumo Wrestling: Exercise & Bathing after Laser Eye Surgery

One key driver for many people considering Laser Eye Surgery is the prospect of improved opportunities and the ability to engage in certain sports, exercises, and other activities. This can include wanting to up your golf game, getting stuck into new sports like archery, tennis, or cycling, or simply avoiding the irritation of glasses and contact lenses in the gym or when going for a jog.

But while many patients are excited to get back into their favourite sports and activities after their procedure, they may also be concerned about how long this might take. Well, unfortunately, all patients will need to avoid exercise and sports for a while after surgery; however, most patients only have to do so for a short period.

Immediately after surgery

During your recovery, your eyes will go through a natural inflammatory and healing process. Therefore, for a short time, they will be a little more sensitive than usual. Of course, there are some things you can do to help ensure a smooth and quick recovery.

For example, it is advised that you avoid any strenuous activities such as running or gymnastics, or any activities that could increase the risk of sweat, water, dust or debris getting in your eyes. This can include taking a bath instead of a shower in the 24 hours after your surgery, or putting off any plans involving saunas, steam rooms or jacuzzis!

We also recommend that you completely avoid sports and exercise for at least three days after your treatment. This doesn’t include light activities such as walking and stretching; however, by day three, you should be ready to return to other activities, including jogging, stationary cycling, and light weight training.

The Coming Weeks

Over the next few weeks, as your eyes are healing, it will be necessary to avoid getting any sweat in your eyes and refrain from rubbing them. By the second week of your recovery period, the corneal tissue will have healed significantly. For this reason, most people will now be able to participate in slightly more strenuous sports, such as tennis, squash – and even swimming, mountain biking and skiing (while wearing appropriate eyewear).

On the Tube & In the Air: Travelling after Laser Eye Surgery

When planning your Laser Eye Surgery recovery period, you will also have to consider how long it will be before you can travel again. This might be something as simple as hopping on the tube or a more significant, long-haul trip, but whether you’re returning to the office or jetting off on holiday, your recovery period can affect your travel plans.

Generally, we advise that you keep travelling to a minimum in the day or two following your surgery. Of course, travelling to your post-operative appointment the day after your treatment is an exception; however, aside from this, you should ideally avoid anything more than strolling between your sofa, kitchen, bathroom, and bed!

So, when can you get back to travelling?

Public transport vehicles like trains and planes contain high levels of dust and micro-particles. Therefore, it is strongly advised that you avoid such methods of transport for the first few days after your surgery.

If you have a flight scheduled (perhaps you’ve travelled to London Vision Clinic from abroad for your treatment), there’s usually no need to cancel or reschedule your flight. The vast majority of patients are signed off as suitable to fly at their post-operative appointment. However, as plane cabins are notoriously dry, you must carry your lubricating eye drops with you at all times to ensure your eyes remain hydrated and comfortable.

Looking Glamorous: Wearing Makeup after Laser Eye Surgery

We find that many patients worry about not being able to wear makeup and use other beauty and skincare products in the days following Laser Eye Surgery. But again, this might not be quite as inconvenient as you might think.

Sure, you will be asked to avoid all make-up and skincare products on the day of your procedure. You will also be advised to forego certain make-up products for up to a week. However, this rule doesn’t apply to all products. Many products, including concealer, foundation, lipstick, and blusher, can be used after around 24 hours.

Only eye makeup products such as eyeliner, eyeshadow, and mascara – or any other products that are applied to the eye or surrounding area – should be avoided for around seven days.

Fancy a drink? Raising a Toast to Your New Vision

First of all, we should make it clear that this section refers strictly to alcoholic beverages. All non-alcoholic drinks, such as water or tea are absolutely fine to consume throughout your recovery (though diuretics such as high-caffeine drinks should be limited).

It’s no secret that surgery and alcohol don’t really mix. Yet, many patients will understandably be anxious to know when they will finally be able to raise a glass and celebrate their new, glasses-free vision. That’s why we decided to create a comprehensive guide to alcohol and laser eye surgery.

To briefly summarise this detailed guide, we advise patients to limit alcohol intake the day before their surgery and to abstain on the day and the 24 hours afterwards.

The Laser Eye Surgery Recovery Timeline & Aftercare Guidance

One of the many amazing things about Laser Eye Surgery is just how rapid and trouble-free recovery can be. As we mentioned, the vast majority of patients can start getting back to their routine just 24 hours after their procedure! However, it is standard procedure to attend a series of aftercare appointments over the 12 months following your treatment.

At London Vision Clinic and other private and independent clinics, these appointments will be included in the cost of your treatment. But despite being an essential part of your Laser Eye Surgery treatment, this is not necessarily true with some high street providers. It is therefore best to check your chosen clinic’s terms to ensure you opt for one that takes this part of your treatment seriously.

Your first aftercare appointment will be on the day after your surgery. At this appointment, your surgeon will be able to give you a clearer idea of when you can get back to driving, exercise, and other activities. This will typically be followed by appointments at 3-4 weeks, 3 months, and one year, though this will vary from patient to patient. These appointments will involve tests to check your vision and provide you with an opportunity to ask any questions relating to your recovery.

A Typical LASIK Recovery Timeline

Further down this page, we will go into more detail about what makes a high-quality aftercare program. But first, let’s take a look at a typical recovery timeline for patients undergoing LASIK treatment* at London Vision Clinic.

*Patients undergoing LASEK/PRK will have a slower recovery while for patients who have ReLex SMILE it will be a little faster. As mentioned earlier, PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision patients will also require an adaptation period after surgery.

The whole Laser Eye Surgery recovery process typically lasts between three and six months. This might seem like a long time, but don’t be disheartened! This is simply the time it will take for your eyes to fully heal and your vision to reach 100% of its potential and for any dry eye symptoms to resolve. Many patients notice an immediate improvement in their vision as soon as surgery is complete!

The first 24 hours of your recovery

  • Following the procedure, you’ll notice immediate improvements in your vision.
  • Your vision can still be a little foggy or blurry in the first few hours, so rest and keep your eyes closed during this time.
  • It is strongly advised that you avoid public transport on the day of your surgery. Try to arrange for a friend, family member or taxi to take you to and from the clinic.
  • Light activity in the home is permissible, but be careful to avoid any activities that could lead to anything touching or poking your eyes.
  • Avoid all screens as much as possible, as well as reading and close-up tasks, to prevent eye strain and dry eyes.
  • Take a bath instead of a shower to prevent soap and water from irritating your eyes.
  • Use this time to get used to your new eyedrop routine and avoid devices such as air conditioners that can dry out your eyes.
  • You may experience mild itching or dryness – avoid rubbing your eyes and use your lubricating drops to provide relief instead.
  • Avoid alcohol completely.

The day after your surgery

  • You will attend your first-day aftercare appointment at the clinic. Your surgeon will check that everything is going smoothly and sign you off to resume most day-to-day activities.
  • Again, we advise asking a friend or family member for a lift to and from the clinic. Using a taxi, train, or the overground is fine, but we advise against using the Underground.
  • You can get back to reading and watching TV, but remember to take regular breaks and continue to use your eye drops.
  • You will be able to return to work, but be sure to use any appropriate safety eyewear and, if using a screen, remember to stick to your eye drop routine and take regular breaks.
  • Flying will likely be permitted, but again, keep your eye drops on hand as the air is very dry inside plane cabins.
  • Getting back in the shower is back on the cards, but it is important to exercise caution.
  • You may see halos and starbursts around light sources – particularly at night. This will gradually resolve as the swelling in the cornea reduces.
  • You can celebrate with a glass of wine or a beer – but take it easy!

By Day 3

  • By now, the corneas will have regained much of their previous strength. You can start getting ack to the gym and doing light exercises such as jogging, stationary cycling and lifting light weights.
  • Continue to avoid getting anything (like sweat and dust) in your eyes, and resist rubbing or touching them.
  • Wearing light makeup and perfume/aftershave should be okay.
  • Some blurriness and fluctuations in your vision may remain for around a week so 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 your vision refraction settles.
  • Apart from avoiding vigorous exercise and having to take a bit more care of your eyes than usual, life will be pretty much back to normal.

At Week 2

  • Side effects such as night glare should gradually disappear over the next few weeks. These will continue to be assessed at your 3/4-week and 3-month aftercare appointments.
  • You will be able to get back to sports like swimming, football, tennis, squash, and even scuba diving and snorkelling! Of course, with the appropriate eyewear.
  • You should still avoid high-impact sports such as rugby, boxing, martial arts, and water skiing 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.

At 3-6 months

  • Some patients may continue to experience dry eye symptoms for a few months after their treatment. This can still be managed with eye drops and will continue to reduce as the days go by.
  • A few restrictions will remain (such as avoiding sun beds) for around 6 months.
  • You will attend further aftercare appointments at 3 months and 12 months.

The Importance of High-Quality Aftercare

At London Vision Clinic, we believe that aftercare should be included in the cost of all treatments. Including your aftercare appointments is usually a sign of a clinic that cares about its patients. But beyond that, how do you know if the aftercare program at your chosen clinic is actually any good?

Besides the regular checkups at the clinic that we have laid out above, here are a few of the main things to look out for when spotting a high-quality aftercare program.

24/7 Aftercare Availability

While it’s extremely rare that you will find yourself in a position where you require the immediate attention of your surgeon, your clinic’s aftercare guidelines should allow you to contact them should you need to – 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, you may still require urgent information or attention, so this one is a must.

Caring and Knowledgeable Staff

All kinds of surgery can be daunting – even one as safe as Laser Eye Surgery. So, it should go without saying that patients should be in the hands of highly trained and experienced surgeons and staff. This should apply to both your pre-operative appointments, the procedure itself, and throughout your recovery.

Clinic consultants and/or your surgeon should be available to help both at your clinic appointments and to provide you with appropriate at-home guidance. This might include advising you on activities to avoid, how to look after your eyes, and how soon you can get back to certain activities.

Treating You as a Lifelong Patient

Just like other parts of our body, our eyes are sure to change and deteriorate over time. The best Laser Eye Surgery clinics understand this and will never treat you as a “one-time patient”. From day one, you should be treated as a lifelong patient and provided with the appropriate support and resources.

This should involve not only being able to connect with your clinic years after your treatment but also providing you with highly tailored and personal care. At London Vision Clinic, this improves complimentary chocolates, authentic relationships and caring staff – and even a relaxing head massage before your surgery! These are just some of the ways the best of the best will 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 of corneal tissue during Laser Eye Surgery triggers the body’s natural healing responses. While this is completely normal, the inflammation and swelling that occur as a result can have some mild, but temporary, effects on your vision.

You might be relieved to hear that this swelling won’t be apparent to the naked eye and any side effects – if any – will typically face 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.

So, let’s take a look at the most common Laser Eye Surgery side effects.

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 eyeslight sensitivityvision fluctuations, and some night glare like halos and starbursts.

Dry eyes

Of all the temporary side effects of Laser Eye Surgery, dry eye is the most common. To help you manage this effectively, we provide unlimited lubricating eye drops, free of charge! You can learn more about measures to prevent dry eyes in our comprehensive guide to Dry Eyes.

You will be advised to always keep your eye drops close at hand and use them whenever you feel any discomfort or irritation. It maybe necessary to do this more often if you are spending time in air-conditioned spaces or using screens for prolonged periods. When following these guidelines, most patients find that dry eye symptoms will resolve within 3-6 months, though in some cases, it may be longer.

Patients who have ReLEx SMILE treatment generally experience reduced levels of post-operative dry eye and discomfort, thanks to the minimally invasive nature of this technique.

Light Sensitivity

It is normal to experience some sensitivity to light following Laser Eye Surgery. In most cases, this will noticeably improve within the first 12-24 hours after your procedure. During this time, we recommend that you avoid bright, harsh lighting, and wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection when out and about – particularly on brighter days.

Fluctuating Vision

It is also common to experience some extent of blurred vision immediately after the procedure. This will continually improve as the swelling settles and your vision stabilises. However, it is not uncommon for your vision to continue to fluctuate over the first few weeks of your recovery – this is a completely normal part of the healing process and is usually nothing to worry about.

Halos and Starbursts

Starbursts and halos are types of glare that can appear around light sources – particularly in low-light conditions and at night. Halos appear as glowing rings while starbursts resemble star-like glare.

These side effects are a direct symptom of the swelling that occurs after Laser Eye Surgery. Therefore, it is generally expected that all patients will experience this side effect to some extent. However, halos and starbursts will begin to subside as this swelling goes down.

If you have any remaining questions about Laser Eye Surgery recovery and aftercare – or anything else for that matter – don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our friendly clinic coordinators are always on hand to help! Alternatively, Book a Consultation today to start your journey to clear vision.