Choosing between Lasik and Lasek eye surgery

by Tim Harwood

Hundreds of thousands of people each year are taking the plunge and choosing to have the life changing procedure that is laser eye surgery.

It is currently the most popular elective surgery in the world and the number of people having it done is likely to increase as the procedure becomes safer and more accurate. If you yourself are considering having laser eye surgery, then you will almost certainly be confronted with the choice of whether to have Lasik or Lasek eye surgery (which is similar to PRK).

Both Lasek and Lasik are types of laser eye surgery and they account for about 99% of all procedures currently being carried out. Of the 2 types, Lasik is by far the most popular accounting for about 7 times more procedures than Lasek.

The main difference between these 2 types of laser eye surgery lies in the way in which the inner part of the cornea is accessed. The cornea (outer clear part of your eye) is the part of the eye that is to be lasered and your surgeon can not laser directly onto the surface of your eye. He/she needs to lift off a thin layer of your cornea before the laser can be applied.

During Lasik, a flap is created which effectively means a thin layer of your cornea is cut and then lifted to one side. The surgeon then applies the laser which eliminates your prescription and then the flap is replaced back in exactly the same place as it was before.

During the Lasek procedure however there is no flap created. The surgeon simply loosens the very outer layer of your cornea (epithelium) and moves it to one side. This is loosened using an alcohol solution rather than a surgical blade. The laser is then applied (the same as it is for Lasik) and the epithelium is then smoothed back over and left to heal.

The following lists some of the other differences between the procedures:

* Resulting vision: Lasik and Lasek produce very similar visual results and they are equally likely to produce 20/20 vision.

* Recovery: The recovery period for Lasik is far quicker and more comfortable than the Lasek recovery. Following Lasik, most people experience only very mild discomfort (e.g. dryness, irritable, stinging) and most people can return to work and drive 24-48 hours following surgery. People can however experience quite moderate pain following Lasek surgery and it is normally advisable to have 5-7 days off work.

* Complications: There are more risks with Lasik than Lasek as the vast majority of complications are associated with the creation and healing of the flap. There is of course no flap created during Lasek. Both procedures however are extremely safe and most complications are easily treatable by your surgeon.

* Price: Most clinics charge the same price for the 2 procedures.

* Corneal thickness: If you have thin corneas you may be advised to have Lasek eye surgery by your surgeon. Lasek can be carried out on people with thinner corneas when compared with Lasik.

* Contact sports: If you are involved with contact sports you will probably be advised to have Lasek as the strength of your cornea will be in no way compromised following the procedure.

In summary most people choose to have Lasik surgery as they can return to work and normal activities sooner following surgery. It is generally only those who have been specifically advised to have Lasek who end up having that treatment. Both procedures are equally likely to give you 20/20 vision. The only real way you will ever know which treatment is the most suitable for you is by going to see a qualified surgeon for a laser eye surgery consultation.

Timothy Harwood is an optometrist and founder and managing director of

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