Laser Eye Surgery and Alcohol, a quick guide

Pregnancy, surgery, breastfeeding, taking antibiotics, having dinner with the parents-in-law — all times in our life when we’re advised to stay away from the liquor cabinet. And also, uncoincidentally, the times in our lives when we could most do with a nice drink or two.

Nine months with another person growing inside of you without even a tipple of wine? A week with an unbearable ear infection and no soothing nightcaps? A whole night sober with my mother-in-law?

Yeah right.

We all know there’s been times we’ve sneaked a small one when we shouldn’t have, and for the most part, that’s okay. But when it comes to things like surgery, the consequences for doing so are a lot more clear cut.

But as you may have heard, Laser Eye Surgery is far from your typical surgical procedure. When compared to traditional surgery, which includes things like a 24-hour period of fasting and days and days spent off work in recovery, Laser Eye Surgery is like the cool and progressive distant cousin, with nothing in common other than the same last name.

And being so young and hip and up to date with the latest trends and technology, that cousin also has a different and much more flexible policy on alcohol. This is thanks to two things that separate Laser Eye Surgery from the majority of surgical procedures: it’s minimally-invasive and can be performed in a matter of minutes.

In this brief guide, we’re going to show you exactly what the Laser Eye Surgery policy surrounding alcohol looks like. Getting straight to the bottom of questions like ‘Can I drink before the night before the procedure?’ and ‘How soon after Laser Eye Surgery can I drink alcohol?’

But before we do, it’s important to know why alcohol and surgery are never a good mix  — even with the most advanced procedures like Laser Eye Surgery.

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The sobering effects of alcohol on the body

Alcohol is a depressant — not in the sense it makes you empty the fridge and weep to Elton John at 4 in the morning, but meaning it slows down and depresses vital functions. We’re familiar with how this affects things like our speech, movements, and reaction time, but what’s it doing to processes going on inside of us?

Ever slipped and scraped your knee on a night out and whatever you did you just couldn’t stop the bleeding? Well, one thing alcohol does is affect the blood’s ability to clot. This can cause problems in controlling blood loss during surgery and prolong the healing stage.

And you know the pounding headaches and dry, sticky mouth you get the day after? You can thank that to alcohol disrupting your ability to absorb and retain water. It does this by decreasing your body’s production of anti-diuretic hormone, causing you to lose more vital fluid than normal — mainly through increased trips to the bathroom. As alcohol is also an intoxicant, this further weakens the immune system and can lead to more time spent in recovery.

But with Laser Eye Surgery being a minimally-invasive procedure, the risks of alcohol aren’t as frightening as bleeding out or catching MRSA. However, they are as real and important to ensuring a successful treatment, a quick recovery, and the best possible outcome.

The incredibly dry reason alcohol and Laser Eye Surgery don’t mix

If you’re a contact wearer or naturally prone to dry eyes, you may already be familiar with how alcohol can seem to strip away moisture from your eyes. It’s the restriction on your body’s production of anti-diuretic hormone that causes this.

In a normal functioning eye, the lacrimal glands continuously produce a small amount of watery fluid to make up what’s known as the tear film. This layer sits between the eye and the eyelid and provides lubrication for each time you blink. When alcohol decreases the body’s ability to absorb water, the lacrimal gland is one of the first functions to suffer (after your vocal cords and sense of rhythm). It becomes less able to produce as much watery fluid, causing the tear film to become thin and the surface of the eye dry and irritated.

It all sounds very dramatic, but as I’m sure you’re aware, the body is quick to cycle through this process and is soon back to its normal state come Monday morning. It only becomes a real problem when wearing contact lenses long term, consuming alcohol excessively, or if your eyes are already compromised due to illness, age, or health.

Surely one drink before Laser Eye Surgery won’t harm?

Mr Glenn Carp explains some of the things patients are asked to do in preparation for Laser Eye Surgery.

When preparing for surgery, guidelines for drinking alcohol range from anything between one day to seventy-two hours before. For Laser Eye Surgery, the general recommendation is to avoid it for at least 24 hours.

But the fact is if you consume an average amount of alcohol and have healthy eyes, enjoying a drink before Laser Eye Surgery shouldn’t be a problem at all. The key is only to have a small amount (a small glass of wine or one beer) and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

As it’s not every day you get a vision upgrade, most patients manage to avoid alcohol for one night and stick to water or soft drinks. As you’ll see, it won’t be long before you can celebrate with a real drink afterwards.

It’s the day of the procedure and uh oh, I smell alcohol…

First, I feel obliged to point out that if you have a heavy night of drinking or a boozy lunch before heading for your appointment, the clinic will likely refuse to perform the procedure. Aside from the decreased ability to control basic motor functions, being a little tipsy can cause your vision to fluctuate — think the “beer goggle” effect — and therefore affect the outcome of the procedure.

It’s not often we turn people away because they’re wandering down the halls and sharing problems in their marriage with our surgeons, but alcohol is still a big problem on the day of surgery. This is not due to drinking it, but wearing it.

Using or wearing anything with a high alcohol content can quite literally strip them of moisture. Therefore things like hair spray, perfume, cologne, mousse, and anything else containing alcohol are to be avoided on the day of the procedure.

Similarly, any products containing chemicals or small particles like makeup — particularly eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara — should be removed a minimum of 24 hours before surgery. This is one of the reasons why it’s convenient to take the full day of the surgery off work— so you can relax at home and not have to worry about impressive Mark in accounting.

Straight to the pub after Laser Eye Surgery; well, not quite

It depends on a number of factors including your health, age, and the type of procedure you have, but generally, drinking alcohol when recovering from surgery is a serious no-no.

As a depressant and intoxicant, alcohol puts strain on your body and increases the risks of contracting infections. Add that to interfering with medications, increasing bleeding, and promoting swelling, and you have an inarguable case for avoiding any booze whatsoever.

But the good thing is, you don’t have to worry about any of these issues after having Laser Eye Surgery.

As touched on earlier, Laser Eye Surgery is unlike the typical surgery that involves invasive methods, anaesthetic, and lengthy recovery periods. It’s quick, painless, and based on a revolutionary technique of using lasers. These aren’t like the lasers we’ve seen in the movies, but rather cool lasers (meaning they don’t heat up the surrounding air or surfaces) that break down tissue via a tightly-focused beam of ultraviolet light.

All this means the recovery period following Laser Eye Surgery is incredibly short. You can be back at work, drinking alcohol, and in your normal routine in as little as 24 hours after the procedure.

In these initial 24 hours post-surgery, your eyes are in the acute stages of healing and will be slightly drier than usual. Therefore it’s paramount you avoid drinking alcohol or using any products with a high alcohol content in this period. Good clinics provide complimentary eye drops that you can use to help keep your eyes well lubricated.

And it’s important to note that although your eyes make about an 80 percent recovery within one day, it takes several weeks for them to hit 100 percent. Therefore it’s recommended to take it easy on the alcohol in these initial days (and often for the sake of good eye health) and follow the aftercare guidelines recommended by your clinic. But most importantly of all, make sure you take the time to celebrate your new your new improved vision and reap its benefits to the full. Cheers.

Have a question about alcohol and Laser Eye Surgery? Ask us in the comments below. Or, if you’d like to book a consultation, contact one of our Patient Care Coordinators. 

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