Guide to Recovery & Post-Operative Care after Laser Eye Surgery
Updated for 2022
You might wonder, what clever so-and-so thought it a good idea to place two of the most precious and complex organs in the body in one of the most vulnerable of all areas?
Your eyes need to receive and process visual data to create the world around us and guide us through it, so it wouldn’t make much sense for them to be on your knees or inside your gallbladder.
But by placing them high up and front and centre, it means they’re exposed to the elements and wide open to eye pokes and a whole range of other potential disasters.
Luckily, whoever designed them thought this through. As well as being among the most precious and sophisticated parts of the body, the eyes also come with some of the most impressive and powerful defensive and healing capabilities known to man.
To name a few, 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.
All of this not only means your eyes are incredibly resilient and hardy but that it’s possible to correct any refractive errors you may have and permanently improve your vision using Laser Eye Surgery.
If that wasn’t good enough, thanks to the power of your eyes and the design of the treatment as minimally invasive, it also means it can all be done quickly and comfortably. Most patients notice improved vision immediately after their treatment, returning to their regular daily activities the following day, and reaching around 80 per cent of recovery within the first week.
That being said, your eyes are still precious, and Laser Eye Surgery is still a surgical procedure. So, rather than jump into it headfirst without looking ahead, there are several things you need to consider regarding the recovery process to ensure yours goes as smoothly and swiftly as it should.
In this brief guide, we’re going to take a closer look at the whole Laser Eye Surgery recovery process, from questions about work and driving, exercise and makeup, to advice on finding high-quality aftercare and about any potential side effects you may expect.
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
You may think that experiencing some level of pain during recovery is an unavoidable part of any typical surgical procedure. And it’s true, but Laser Eye Surgery is far from your typical procedure.
Laser Eye Surgery is so short and minimally invasive that, after receiving the treatment, apart from the new improved and glasses-free vision, there is little other sign that it ever happened.
The closest thing to pain patients may experience after the treatment is some very mild discomfort for the first few hours. Your eyes may feel a little watery or a little bit stingy. Still, in the vast majority of cases, it’s hardly noticeable and settles very quickly, not to mention it is easily managed with the eye drops provided.
It’s worth noting that although it’s not common to feel pain or soreness after 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
As PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision works a little differently from other laser treatments, the recovery process is a little different too.
The exact length of recovery following PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision varies from person to person. It all depends on how quickly your brain adapts to the new way of seeing.
Blended Vision is much different from monovision in that it doesn’t adjust the eye to two specific focal points but instead creates a ‘blend zone’ that is smoother and offers a greater depth of vision. This is crucial as the more natural the field of vision, the quicker your brain adapts to the way of seeing.
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.
Although it’s rare, some patients may experience that their distance or near vision isn’t quite right. But this visual confusion is instantly reversed by a simple pair of temporary spectacles. The use of these ‘balancing spectacles’ won’t affect your recovery, and you don’t have to worry that you’ll be wearing them for long.
This feeling gradually reduces over time – on average, adaptation to PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision takes from 6 weeks to 9 months and occasionally 12 months. It’s faster for some patients and a little slower for others. Your surgeon will closely assess your progress at your aftercare appointments and ensure you and your new vision are adapting nicely, and it is the best it can be.
Getting Back on The Job: Work & Managing Your Recovery in The Workplace
Weeks, months, even years — these are the types of timeframes we’re used to hearing when it comes to how long before you can get back to work after undergoing a typical surgical procedure.
But, Laser Eye Surgery is far from typical. And this is made very clear by the fact that the vast majority of patients are back to work in as little as 24 hours after their treatment day.
Depending on factors like particular treatment, expected recovery rate, and if you have a morning, afternoon, or evening procedure, most patients take around two days off — the day of the surgery and the day after. Generally, this is the case if you have LASIK, ReLEx SMILE, or PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision. LASEK/PRK can take a little longer, and you should plan to return to work after around seven days.
Swiftly getting back to work is generally not an issue for most patients. However, on returning to work, there are a few things to bear in mind to help support your recovery.
As many people today work inside with screens, the main thing we advise is to keep your eyes well lubricated with artificial tears, particularly if you’re using a computer and in an environment with air conditioning as both can dry out your eyes. It is also helpful to keep in mind that most people blink less often when looking at a computer screen.
Extra care is also necessary if you work, for example, on a construction site, where there’s 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 eyecare advice after that.
The Road to Better Vision: Getting Back in the Driver’s Seat After Laser Eye Surgery
Seeing as though it’s all about your eyes, which are pretty crucial for being in control of a vehicle, many people think it could be a while after having Laser Eye Surgery until they can get back in the driver’s seat.
But if you’re like the vast majority of patients, you’ll be able to drive in as little as 24-48 hours after your treatment. For many, this is often a pretty profound experience as you start to see driving and being out on the open road with fresh eyes. It can also feel surprisingly odd and liberating to be behind the wheel without wearing your glasses.
Exactly how quickly you are back driving after Laser Eye Surgery depends on your treatment and the clinic you attend. At London Vision Clinic, more than 95 per cent of LASIK patients are up to the legal driving standard or better on the first day after surgery.
This is typical across all patients and treatments (except for PRK), and it is during a consultation on the day after your treatment your surgeon will advise you as to whether or not your vision meets the driving standard and sign you off.
After your first-day aftercare appointment, you’ll be free to drive to your heart’s content. However, at least in the first few days, it is recommended to stick to driving short distances and be aware of things like starbursts and halos around lights while driving at night.
Such ‘side effects’ can be expected as part of the eye’s recovery process, with most people experiencing them as very mild and many not noticing them at all. We go into more detail on the natural side effects of Laser Eye Surgery that you may encounter during your recovery further down the page.
So you’ll be back driving after Laser Eye Surgery within no time. But that leaves the question: what are you to do during the 24 hours immediately following your treatment when you can’t drive? We advise all patients to take a back seat and get some rest during this period.
That typically means arranging taxi transport or coaxing a friend or family member to drive you home from the clinic after your treatment and bring you back for your first-day aftercare appointment—a good excuse to chill out and get someone to escort for you.
The Dreaded No-Screen Period: Getting back to Your Devices After Laser Eye Surgery
Usually, after going through surgery, you can at least look forward to lounging around and indulging in binge-watching your favourite TV series for the sixth time.
After having Laser Eye Surgery, though, it’s more like the opposite. There is a strict period in which it’s recommended to avoid all screens — TVs, smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, e-readers — and even alternative forms of entertainment like the old-fashioned pastime of reading a book.
But don’t be put off just yet. You’ll be pleased to hear that this dreaded no-screen period is often no more than 24-hours, starting the moment you sit up after treatment. What’s more, the stricter you are, and further away you stay from your devices, the quicker and smoother your recovery will go and the sooner you’ll be back to them.
A lot of us know we could do with taking a break from our phone or laptop anyway. 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?
In these 24 hours, it’s advised to simply put your feet up and spend some quiet time in a relaxed environment — at home or at least somewhere that’s away 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 eyedrop routine.
When this period comes to an end, there are several things to keep in mind before you return to the frequent use of devices, particularly if you spend a lot of time at a computer. First, as using a screen can dry out your eyes, it’s recommended to gradually ease back into using them and keep the lubricating drops on hand to use at frequent intervals during 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
Many people decide to have Laser Eye Surgery to improve their opportunity and ability to engage in sport and exercise. Whether it be to improve their level of performance in activities like golf, pool, archery, or tennis, or to avoid getting sweat under their contacts at the gym or dealing with glasses flapping around when out jogging.
Such active folk can thus be a little apprehensive about having the treatment as they think it’ll mean taking a long time away from their playing field. The bad news is it’s true, you do have to refrain from exercising and playing a sport for a while, but the good news is, the length of time that will be is likely a lot shorter than you think.
When recovering from Laser Eye Surgery, your eyes go through the completely natural and expected inflammatory process. As such, for a time, they become a little more sensitive than usual, and your body steps in to send them all the resources and support they need.
This means that, at least in the acute phases of recovery, you want to help them do their thing and refrain from strenuous activity or allowing anything such as sweat, dust, or debris from touching your eyes and interrupting or delaying this process.
This is why it’s recommended to take a bath instead of a shower until 24 hours after surgery — as well as to put on hold your date with the sauna, steam room, or jacuzzi. And it’s also why it’s recommended that you don’t engage in exercise or sport until about the third day after your treatment.
Light activity such as walking and stretching are typically fine within this period — the guidelines are more a matter of precaution than anything — and come day three, you’ll be able to return to activities such as jogging, stationary cycling, and lifting small weights.
As the cornea will still be in recovery mode for the first few weeks, it’s crucial in 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).
Physical and high-impact sports like boxing, martial arts, water-skiing, and sumo wrestling should be avoided until at least one month after your treatment. Your surgeon will give you more specific guidance as to when they think you’ll be fit to get back to your particular sport or activity.
On The Tube & In The Air: Travelling After Laser Eye Surgery
Whether it’s taking the tube to work or jetting off on an international business trip, it’s essential to be aware that there are recommended guidelines that might affect your plans after having Laser Eye Surgery.
At least for the day of the treatment, it’s advised to keep travelling down to a bare minimum. Ideally, nothing more than strolling between the couch, kitchen, and your bed. So it’s not like you’ll be low on energy or your vision will be restricted; it’s more like the opposite.
After just a few hours, most people’s vision is well on the way to recovery, and the flap has healed. But while you might feel ready, your eyes are still in the recovery process, so this is why we recommend taking it easy and putting your feet up.
As mentioned in the driving and recovery section, you’ll typically be unable to drive for at least the first 24-48 hours. For this reason, we recommended getting a friend or family member to be on hand to pick you up from the clinic after your treatment and to bring you back for your first-day aftercare appointment.
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. The only thing to keep in mind is, as your eyes will still be sensitive and the cabin is very dry, to have the lubricating eye drops on hand to keep your eyes moist and comfortable.
Looking Glamorous: Wearing Makeup after Laser Eye Surgery
Not wearing makeup is a big worry for many of our patients. And when they hear that there is a strict period in which you cannot wear any after your treatment, some write it off there and then.
But not so fast. Although it is important not to wear specific makeup for about a week, this doesn’t include typical makeup like lipstick, blusher, concealer, and foundation. Such general makeup is only to be avoided for the first 24 hours after your treatment and can typically be worn after your first-day aftercare appointment.
The makeup that is restricted for seven days is just the makeup that surrounds or comes near to the eye, such as eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara.
Fancy a drink?
We’re talking about alcohol here, not water or tea – both of which are encouraged. Alcohol and surgery don’t generally mix, but it is one of the most common questions we’re asked, so we created a comprehensive guide to alcohol and laser eye surgery. The summary is that it’s best to avoid immediately beforehand and for 24hrs afterwards, but do read the complete guide.
The Laser Eye Surgery Recovery Timeline & Aftercare Guidance
Recovery from Laser Eye Surgery is generally rapid and trouble-free — most people return to their regular routine the next day. But to promote healthy healing and ensure your vision stabilises as well as it should, it’s standard procedure to visit the clinic for a series of aftercare appointments over the first 12 months following your treatment.
Independent and private clinics tend to include aftercare appointments in the cost of the treatment, but many high street providers exclude it and treat it as an additional cost. Aftercare is an essential part of the Laser Eye Surgery process, so it’s best to check your clinic’s terms and find one that takes it seriously.
The first aftercare appointment is the day after the surgery, then at 3-4 weeks, three months, and one year, or as often as is required for each individual. During the appointments, your optometrist will take you through the tests to check your vision and ask you questions about how your recovery is going.
We go into detail about what makes a high-quality aftercare program below. But before that, let’s take a look at the recovery timeline based on the average patient who undergoes LASIK. 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 per cent and for the dry eye symptoms to resolve. In just the first few days following treatment, your vision will improve to near-optimal levels.
Use the recovery timeline to get an idea of when you can return to your normal routine and get back to particular activities. If you have a question about a specific activity or event, drop it in the comments below or send us a message, and we’ll get back to you right away.
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. 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 very 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 here.
- 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 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, and these are managed with drops and gradually reduce as the days go by.
- A few restrictions remain, such as avoiding sunbeds 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 must 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 to send a message or to call. 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. And so it goes without saying that you want to be in the hands of highly trained and experienced surgeons and staff that can calmly and comfortably help you through the whole process.
Not only is this critical for the time you’ll spend with them at appointments and in the clinic, but it’s also important they provide you with the proper at-home guidance. For instance, by 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, and so they never treat you as a one-off patient — from day one, they treat you as if you’ll be with them for life.
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
Laser Eye Surgery involves removing corneal tissue from the eye, which triggers the body’s natural healing response. This leads to natural inflammation and swelling, it can have some mild and temporary effects on your vision.
This swelling is not visible to the naked eye. And any effects you experience — if you experience any at all — will gradually disappear over a few weeks and will be kept an eye on — pun intended — at your 3-4 week aftercare appointments.
With that out 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.
It’s advised to keep your eyes well lubricated with the drops and use 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.
ReLEx SMILE has been shown to considerably reduce post-operative dry eye and discomfort.
Some light sensitivity is expected after Laser Eye Surgery, and will normally 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, but this will soon decrease as your vision stabilises. It’s also not uncommon to experience your vision 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
Each is a result of the swelling from the surgery and is therefore experienced to some degree by every patient and will begin to disappear as it settles down over the first few weeks.
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.