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What is Laser Eye Surgery?

Also known as refractive surgery or vision correction, laser eye surgery is a short procedure that involves using an extremely precise laser to make tiny corrections to the surface of your eye (cornea) so that you can see with greater clarity and sharpness. 

Laser eye surgery has evolved significantly since it was first introduced in the UK in 1990. These days, it makes up around 75% of all surgical procedures carried out in the UK and the success rates are above 99%. Given the increasing patient demand and competition between clinics, there is a huge amount of money spent each year on research and development globally which drives ongoing improvements in the laser technology and patient outcomes. 

In this guide we are going to go cover who is suitable for laser eye surgery, the different types of treatments available, typical prices as well as recommended UK clinics and surgeons.

If you are interested in lens surgery check out our guides to lens replacement surgery and implantable contact lens surgery.

Who Is Laser Eye Surgery Suitable For?

More people than ever are suitable to have laser eye surgery but there are still some restrictions on who can have refractive surgery. Below we’ve put together a guide to the criteria normally used by clinics to select who is eligible for vision correction surgery:

You are suitable if:

  • You’re fit and healthy.
  • You aren’t allergic to anaesthesia.
  • You’ve had stable vision for around 2 years.
  • You’re over 21. There is no upper age limit for laser eye surgery patients, although some clinics that will not operate on those over 70.
  • You have a refractive error, which tends to be in the following range:
    • Up to -10.00D of nearsightedness (myopia)
    • Up to +4.00D of farsightedness (hyperopia)
    • Up to +/-6.00D of astigmatism

You are not suitable if:

  • You have dry eyes.
  • You have cataracts or glaucoma.
  • You have thin corneas.
  • You’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • You’re taking immunosuppressant drugs.
  • You suffer from certain medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, diabetes, the herpes virus and lupus.
  • You have a job that’s dependent on your eyesight (although not an exclusion per se, professional athletes, pilots and so on are told to consider the implications if the procedure does go wrong).

What Laser Eye Treatments Are Best For My Eye Condition?

There are three main types of laser eye surgery: surface laser treatments, LASIK and SMILE.

An acronym of Laser In Situ Keratomileusis, LASIK surgery is now the most common form of laser eye surgery procedure. LASIK is used to correct both short and long-sightedness. However, for people who require higher prescriptions it may not be the best form of treatment. 

LASIK treatments are performed by the surgeon cutting across the cornea and subsequently raising a flap of tissue. The excimer laser is then used to reshape the exposed surface and the flap is replaced (see illustration below). For more information on this, read our guide on LASIK eye surgery and costs.

Wavefront-Guided LASIK and LASEK

Rather than a one size fits all treatment, this is is a tailor-made form of laser eye surgery where treatment is customised to a patient’s particular eye shape and prescription through the use of computerised 3D imaging technology.

ReLEx SMILE (Refractive Lenticule Extraction and Small Incision Lenticule Extraction), is a relatively new minimally-invasive ‘key-hole’ laser eye treatment which offers a great offering a great alternative to LASEK and LASIK treatment.

Rather than creating a flap in the cornea for the laser, this procedure involves making a small hole in the cornea using a state of the art laser that places a series of pulses in the centre of the cornea. which will heal on its own afterwards.

Although it is more expensive than the other techniques, very good results have been achieved using this method. This technique allows surgeons to treat patients with even higher prescriptions than previously deemed possible. The procedure is even suitable for many patients with thinner corneas, drier eyes, or contact lens intolerance.

These surface level treatments remove the clear skin covering the cornea so the surgeon can reshape your cornea with a laser. The skin will then grows back naturally.

LASEK

An acronym of Laser Epithelial Keratomileusis, LASEK surgery is closely related to PRK, with the only difference being that the surface layer (epithelium) of the cornea is not removed, but rather retained as a flap. Retaining the flap is considered to prevent any complications while at the same time speeding up healing.

PRK

An acronym of Photorefractive Keratectomy, PRK surgery is form of eye correction was widely used since the early 1980s, but since the introduction of LASIK and LASEK, it’s now widely used in the correction of low prescriptions. Reshaping of the cornea is done without eliminating a flap of tissue using the excimer laser. This is normally the cheapest form of laser eye surgery.

TransPRK

An acronym for transepithelial photorefractive keratectomy, TransPRK is by Schwind is the most advanced version of surface treatments. It is the only surface treatment where no contact between the eye and an instrument is required. 

 

laser eye surgery types

How Much Is Laser Eye Surgery?

Treatment Type (Prices Are Per Eye)FromTo
LASEK / PRK£1,195 £1,795
LASIK£1,195 £2,700
LASEK (Wavefront)£1,495 £2,450
LASIK (Wavefront)£1,695 £3,250
ReLex SMILE£2,495 £3,250

Typical Laser Eye Treatment Prices In National Clinics

CompanyTreatment NameConsultationPrice Per Eye
Optical ExpressLASIK with iDesignFree£1,495
OptegraLASIK (blade-free)Free£1,795
OptimaxIntraLase® LASIKFree£1,795
UltralaseWavefront LASIKFree£1,795

Typical Laser Eye Treatment Prices In London

CompanyTreatment NameConsultationPrice Per Eye
FocusLASIK (blade-free)£25-£50 *£2,400 – £2,800
London Vision ClinicLASIK (blade-free)Free£2,600 – £3,250
Centre for SightIntraLASIK Supracor£500 **£2,675

Reviews of Laser Eye Surgery Clinics - Which Can You Trust?

QCC review
  • Step 1: Anaesthetic Eye Drops

    The eye is quickly numbed with some anaesthetic eye drops.

  • Step 2: Surgery

    You'll only be in the surgical theatre for around 10 minutes and the actual laser will only be used from just a few seconds to two minutes depending upon the complexity of your prescription. The procedure should be painless.

  • Recovery

    The length of your recovery period depends on the type of laser eye surgery you’ve had and your overall health.  In general, LASIK surgery patients can expect to have normal vision and return to work within 24-48 hours after surgery.  Patients who underwent LASEK surgery may take up to one week to recover. Your surgeon will give you an expected recovery duration in your initial consultation. 

  • Aftercare

    The length of your recovery period depends on the type of laser eye surgery you’ve had and your overall health.  In general, LASIK surgery patients can expect to have normal vision and return to work within 24-48 hours after surgery - SMILE patients possibly sooner.  Patients who underwent LASEK surgery may take up to one week to recover. Your surgeon will give you an expected recovery duration in your initial consultation. 

So, Who Are The Best Laser Eye Surgery Companies?

You can read about our view on the best laser eye surgery companies here

When deciding which laser eye surgery company to use be aware of sales tactics and try not to succumb to any pressure to commit to the surgery. A survey by Which found around a quarter of people who had laser eye surgery felt pressure to sign up. 

Given the sheer number of places to have laser eye surgery and the plethora of reviews available online, the question of which surgeon and clinic to use can be really daunting.  It is imperative that you do your own research as prices, treatments and aftercare vary significantly. You can access our profiles and reviews of the main UK clinics in the drop down menu above within the Clinics section

Outside of London and the South East, there is less choice and you are likely to have to choose between Optical Express, Optimax or a clinic with just one or two local sites.  

Best Laser Eye Surgery Treatments, Prices & Clinics ALLON BARSAM 2

Allon Barsam

MB BS MA FRCOphth

Mr Allon Barsam is an internationally recognised consultant laser eye surgeon. He is founding Partner and Director of Ophthalmic Consultants of London – a multi-location team of leasing eye vision correction and cataract surgeons.

Best Laser Eye Surgery Treatments, Prices & Clinics Professor Dan Reinstein surgeon

Professor Dan Reinstein

MD MA(Cantab) FRCSC DABO FRCOphth FEBO

Professor Dan Reinstein is well-known not just as a pioneering surgeon but also as an academic. He heads the team of surgeons at London Vision Clinic.

Mr C T Pillai surgeon

Mr C T Pillai

MD DO, FRCS (Edin), FRCOpth (UK)

Mr C T Pillai Founder and Medical Director of Harley Street laser eye surgery clinic Advanced Vision Care. He has who has performed over 20,000 successful laser eye procedures to date.

Mr-Paul-Rosen

Paul Rosen

BSc(Hons), MB ChB, FRCS, FRCOphth, MBA

Mr Paul Rosen first performed laser refractive eye surgery in 1991​ and he carries out more than 1000 cataract and refractive surgical procedures each year between his NHS and private practices. He is currently listed as a Consultant Ophthalmic surgeon at Optegra.

Valerie-Saw

Valerie Saw

MB BS (Hons I) FRANZCO FRCOphth PhD

Ms Valerie Saw specialises in laser refractive surgery, cataract and implant surgery, dry eye, contact lens problems and corneal transplantation. She joined Moorfields Eye Hospital as a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon in 2004.

Mr Ali Mearza surgeon

Ali Mearza

MB BS FRCOphth

Ali Mearza runs his private practice in Harley Street (London) whilst also working as a consultant ophthalmic surgeon and Iin July 2016 he was appointed as the Clinical Director of ophthalmology of Ophthalmology Services at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in West London.​

Marcela Espinosa-Lagana surgeon

Ms Marcela Espinosa-Lagana

MD

Ms Marcela Espinosa-Lagana is an internationally recognised consultant laser eye surgeon. He is founding Partner and Director of Ophthalmic Consultants of London – a multi-location team of leasing eye vision correction and cataract surgeons.

David Garty surgeon

David Garty

MD DSc(hon) FRCS FRCOphth DO FCOptom

Mr David Garty is is one of the world’s leading authorities on laser eye surgery and is the senior accredited NHS Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital (appointed in July 1995).

David Allamby surgeon

Mr David Allamby

FRCS (Ed), FRCOpth

Mr David Allamby is the founder and medical director of Focus in central London. He works as a full-time laser eye surgeon and was the first surgeon to perform laser blended vision surgery in the UK to treat presbyopia, a degenerative sight problem brought on by ageing.

What Are the Possible Risks of Laser Eye Surgery?

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Laser Eye Surgery?

How Can I Reduce The Side Effects?

What Are The Alternatives to Laser Eye Surgery?

Checklist for Patients

There are a lot of things you’ll need to consider before you proceed with laser eye surgery, and it’s inevitable you’ll have lots of questions for your surgeon. Be sure to write these down so you don’t forget anything in your initial consultation. To help you come up with some questions, here are a number of things you might want to ask:
  • Does the surgeon have a Cert LRS qualification or are they on the General Medical Council’s register for ophthalmology?
  • Is the surgeon fully insured to carry out this procedure in the UK (you’re entitled to see a copy of this insurance)?
  • Is the clinic or hospital regulated by one of these organisations?
    • England - Care Quality Commission
    • Scotland - Healthcare Improvement Scotland
    • Wales - Healthcare Inspection Wales
    • Northern Ireland - Regulatory and Quality Improvement Authority
  • How many procedures has the surgeon carried out previously using the same laser they’ll use on your eyes? (According to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, a good laser eye surgeon performs at least 500 procedures a year.)
  • What kind of aftercare will you receive for free and what will be charged extra for?
  • What potential complications could arise during or after the surgery? How have they corrected these in the past?
  • What is included in the price and what isn't?

FAQs

Most clinics require patients to be at least 21 years old to perform the procedure. This is because our eyes normally stabilise around this age after changing throughout our childhood and teenage years.

There isn’t an upper age limit and suitability will depend on other health factors for older patients. 

Laser eye surgery is very safe and the complications are thankfully rare. If problems do arise they tend to be relatively minor and can be overcome with additional treatment. Severe loss of vision is extremely rare.

You’ll be in the operating theatre for about 10-15 minutes but the lasers are only used for a very short period of time – from a few seconds up to 2 minutes. You should plan to be at the clinic for 2-3 hours to take account of the preparation and aftercare required.

It is very rare that a patient would feel any pain during laser eye surgery, especially LASIK & SMILE. To ensure a painless experience, anaesthetic drops are applied before the procedure.

The price of laser eye surgery depends on the treatment and clinic but can expect to pay over £3,000 for both eyes as shown in our price tables above.

Our guide to laser eye surgery costs will give you more information about  prices charged for treatments throughout the UK.

The majority of patients will experience improved vision just 24-48 hours after the procedure. Some patients report seeing improvements almost immediately. 

You need to remember even if the surgery is successful, nearly everyone over 45-50 will need reading glasses. 

If you decide you want laser eye surgery in the UK you will then need to decide on whether you want to use a private clinic or an NHS supported facility if you are eligible.  However, not everyone qualifies for laser eye surgery on the NHS.

Under the NHS provisions, not all of these conditions (myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism and diabetic retinopathy) can be treated. The NHS only allows for treatment of eye conditions, which if left untreated, can result in loss of vision and even blindness. Therefore, only diabetic retinopathy is considered to result in loss of vision, while myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism can be successfully treated by other options such as wearing eye glasses or contact lenses.

Therefore, laser eye surgery is rarely available on the NHS, although some NHS trusts operate laser eye surgery clinics that charge a fee. This makes private clinics the only option for anyone seeking to have laser eye surgery to correct refractive errors that are not covered by NHS.

For most laser eye surgery patients, the treatment gives a permanent alternative to wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Have More Questions?

If you have other questions about laser eye surgery please check out our FAQs page.

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