Corrective Laser Eye Surgery (LES): LASIK, LASEK, PRL, RLE


Refractive or Laser Eye Surgery (LES) is a laser reshaping of cornea that changes its focusing power (1), (Picture 1 and 2). For patients with moderate refractive errors, this ambulatory procedure is a quick way to get free of glasses or contact lenses.

Picture 1. An eye doctor performing laser eye surgery


The cost of LES can vary widely but it is rarely under $1,000 per eye (2).


A light from the observed object penetrates through the cornea, lens and viscose liquid of the eye globe, refracts, and focuses on retina as an image. In farsightedness – hyperopia, the eye globe is too short, and since the lens can not refract the light from near objects enough, the light will fall behind the retina resulting in a blurred image. In presbyopia (farsightedness of the aged) the lens becomes rigid and can not refract the light from near objects efficiently, so it will again focus behind the retina. In nearsightedness (myopia), the eye globe is too long and light from distant objects will focus in front of the retina, so images of distant objects will be blurred. In astigmatism blurred vision is caused by irregularities in the corneal or lens shape (3). All mentioned refractive errors can be corrected with a laser eye surgery.


A convenient way is to ask an eye doctor for advice. Before undergoing any investigation or procedure a thorough talk has to be made with a surgeon; contact with his previous patients is also recommended. Results of LES are often permanent, so it is good to find a reliable surgeon.


An ophtalmologist (not necessary the surgeon) will ask questions about your general health and will perform some eye tests (refraction, glaucoma test, visual field test, wavefront test for eye aberrations…), and then he will recommend an appropriate treatment (10). A surgeon who will actually operate you will maybe want to add or repeat some tests before the operation.

Who are CANDIDATES for LES? Patients over 18 (or over 21 in some cases) with stable (at least one year) mild or moderate refractive error.

CONTRAINDICATIONS for LES:contact lenses or glasses prescription in the last year, Herpes zoster infection around the eye, glaucoma, eye inflammations/injuries, dry eyes, keratoconus, corneal scarring, cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, HIV, pregnancy or breastfeeding, medications that may influence vision (narcotics) or cause slow wound healing (steroids), sports like boxing.

Precautions: Large pupils can cause glare, halos after surgery. With thin corneas, blinding complications can appear. Previous refractive surgery, job regulations (pilots) can be additional reasons to reject LES.


Contact lenses change the shape of the cornea, so they should be replace with glasses 1-4 weeks before an eye examination for LES. The day before surgery, using eye cosmetics should be stopped also.


The most commonly used laser in LES is Exscimer laser, which produces a beam of ultraviolet light to vaporize and thus remove the corneal tissue. Many variants of this laser are in use (4).

Picture 2. Laser eye surgery (LASIK) procedure:
The cornea is cut with a knife (microkeratome), the corneal flap is folded back,
cornea reshaped with a laser beam, and corneal flap placed in its original position.


In PRK (Photo-Refractive Keratectomy, developed in 1987) the top layer of the cornea (epithelium) is removed with a surgical blade and adesired amount of the underlying corneal tissue (stroma) is vaporized using an Excimer laser. Removed epithelium regrows naturally in about 2 weeks (5).


In LASIK (Laser Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis, first used in 1993), a 0,2 – 0,3 mm thick flap in the cornea is cut using a knife – microkeratome. A hinge is left at one end and the flap is folded back revealing the stroma, a portion of whichis vaporized with an Excimer laser. Afterwards, the flap is put back and the eye heals more quickly than with PRK. LASIK is the most commonly used refractive surgery procedure (Picture 1).

PRESBY (MULTIFOCAL) LASIK is for presbyiopic people. The center of the cornea is altered to enhance near vision while the outer periphery provides zones for distance vision (9). This method currently does not represent a permanent solution, since presbyopia usually aggravates with time.


WAVEFRONT LASER (used from 2002) sends a beam of light to the retina which then bounces back to a sensor that detects the irregularities of the cornea and lens and produces a 3-D map of the eye visual system. Surgeon uses this map to program a computer that controls the operating laser. After WAVEFRONT LASIK (CUSTOM LASIK) 90-94% of patients reached 20/20 vision or better as opposed to 80% with traditional LASIK (8).


LASEK – Laser Epitelium Keratomileusis(e-LASIK, epithelial LASIK) is using a finer blade (trephine) and is thus appropriate for correcting thin or flat corneas. Flap edges heal in about a day (6).


With INTRALASE technique, an infrared laser is used instead of microkeratome to make a flap (ALL LASER LASIK). Thinner flap (0.1 mm) and its vertical edge which fits tightly with the rest of the cornea are major advantages. There is no obvious difference in vision improvement reported using microkeratome or intralase, but there is less complications, like scarring (7).


MONOVISION is a situation (intended for the presbyotic patient) when one eye is operated to be adjusted to near sight and the other one for distant sight. Trial period with special contact lenses for some days is available to find out if the patient will be able to cope with expected loss of depth perception and permanent blur in one eye. These effects of monovision are most noticeable at night and when sharp vision is needed; in these situations a patient may still need to wear glasses or contact lenses.


The surgery should take less than 30 minutes as an outpatient procedure. You lie on your back on an operating chair, a drop of anaesthetic is placed in the eye and a lid speculum is used to hold the eyelids open. A ring is placed on the eye and pressure is applied to create suction to the cornea. This can cause some discomfort, but is usually not irritating. The cutting instrument is attached to the ring and a flap in the cornea is cut and folded back on its hinge.

The laser is then positioned over your eye and you are asked to stare at light (for about 60 seconds) to keep eye fixed. A computer controls the pulses of laser energy needed. A laser beam vaporizes the corneal tissue and after that the displaced flap of the corneal tissue is put back into the original position.

A shield should be placed over the treated eye at the end of the procedure since no stitches are used to hold the flap in place. It is important not to rub eyes and protect them from pressure during sleep. You will be likely back to work in few days.

It is recommended that the second eye is operated after the first one is completely healed and the vision stabilizes (after some months). Operation of both eyes in one procedure is also possible, though.


Immediately after a procedure you can experience some discomfort or pain, so your doctor  can prescribe a mild pain reliever. Both eyes may tear and vision may be blurred. Over-sensitivity to light and eventual bruises should improve in few days. A few days off the work and sport activity is recommended. If any unexpected pain, tension or excretion appears doctor should be attended immediately.

To prevent infection, you should avoid eye cosmetics for at least two weeks, and swimming and sports with possible eye exposure to hits should for 1-2 months. It may take up to 3-6 months for your vision to stabilize after surgery. Glare, haloes and difficulty driving at night may persist during this time.


Most patients are pleased with the results of their refractive surgery.

A study running from 2000-2003 in U.S. has shown that 86% of operated patients have achieved 20/20 or better vision and 98% have achieved 20/40 or better vision (11).

Results are generally not as good in patients with very large refractive errors of any type. For some farsighted patients, results of a surgery may diminish with age.


Up to 5% of people undergoing the procedure have experienced some type of problem (15).

Some patients lose vision ability after a surgery in the way which cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses or another surgery. Persisting glare, halos or double vision can seriously affect night vision. Someone may still need glasses or contact lenses after the surgery. Some patients may develop severe dry eye syndrome which may be permanent and intensive drop therapy may be required.

Picture 3. Bleeding beneath the conjunctiva is a minor and transient,
but common post-LASIK complication
(source: Wikimedia)


Radical keratotomy (RK) is a classic surgical procedure for a cornea shape correction, and is now obsolete. Conductive keratoplasty (Nearvision CK) uses low heat radio waves to steepens the cornea. Implanted lenses are used as additional artificial lenses for higher levels of nearsightedness. Natural lens remains intact. In Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE), the natural lens is removed and replaced with artificial one (12).
Laser is also used for treatment of retinal detachment (13).

Related Articles:

  • Itchy Eyes


  1. LES  (
  2. The cost of LES  (
  3. Astigmatism and LES(
  4. Types of laser used in LES  (
  5. PRK  (
  6. LASEK  (
  7. Intralasik  (
  8. Where to find a LASIK surgeon(
  9. Presby lasik  (
  10. Eye exam before LES  (
  11. Lasik complications  (
  12. RLE  (
  13. Laser and retinal detachment  (
About Jan Modric (209 Articles)
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