Laser Eye Surgery

Written by Joy Watford

Medically reviewed by Dr Melody Huang, OD 

Updated 14th Jan 2021

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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. Over 120,000 people receive laser eye surgery each year in the UK accounting for 75% of all surgical procedures carried out.  When people refer to laser eye surgery they normally mean LASIK, SMILE or surface laser treatments (e.g. LASEK, PRK, TransPRK).

Am I Eligible For Laser Eye Surgery? 

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 (we also have more information on suitability here):

You are suitable if:

You are not suitable if:

What Type of Eye Surgery Is Right For Me?

The particular laser eye treatment that is right for you will depend on your budget and eye condition. The tabs below give an overview of the different laser eye surgery treatment types


What Is It?

Best for?


Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis

LASIK is the most common type of laser treatment and is relatively painless. It involves creating a flap in the cornea, peeling it back to expose the stromal layer. The cornea is then reshaped with a laser beam and the flap is replaced afterwards. This procedure is best for those with common sight problems, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.


Laser-Assisted Epithelial Keratomileusis

LASEK surgery involves peeling back the epithelium (the thin layer of cells that cover the cornea), exposing the Bowman’s layer. This is then reshaped with a laser beam and the epithelium is replaced. This treatment is the most viable option for patients with thin corneas, and is a good alternative to LASIK surgery.


Wavefront is a type of technology utilised in LASIK and LASEK procedures. Software creates a map of the patient’s eye to give an accurate picture of the aberrations to be corrected. The map is then used to control the laser so that it can reshapes the cornea exactly to the patient’s specific requirements. This is best for those who can are eligible for standard LASIK and LASEK procedures but have the budget to pay the extra to get superior results.


Small Incision Lenticule Extraction

ReLex SMILE is a new, minimally-invasive laser eye treatment which offers 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. It is generally used for correcting higher degrees of myopia with or without astigmatism. More people are suitable for this treatment than for LASEK and LASIK treatment.


Photorefractive Keratoctomy

PRK is the oldest type of laser eye treatment and involves the removal of the epithelium in order to access the cornea. The cornea is reshaped with laser and the patient will then have to wear a protective lens during the recovery period. Best for those on a budget and who qualify. It is rarely used these days, but PRK a good alternative to LASIK and LASEK for people with very thin corneas who would otherwise not be considered as candidates for laser eye treatment.

Which Eye Conditions Does Laser Eye Surgery Treat?

Laser eye surgery is appropriate for you if you have a moderate degree of:

  • Myopia (also known as short-sightedness), whereby you are able to see nearby objects to a higher level of clarity, but distant objects appear blurred.
  • Hyperopia (also known as long-sightedness), whereby you are able to see distant objects clearly, but objects at short distances appear blurred.
  • Astigmatism, caused by unequal curvature on the eye surface, and manifests in overall blurry vision.
  • 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.

  • Step 3: 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

    Clinics will typically offer some aftercare provision as standard for all patients which is included in the price. This normally involves 2 to 4 checkups over the course of 3-12 months, depending on the clinic. You will also be provided antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops to use after your procedure.

How Is Laser Eye Surgery Performed? 

The particular laser eye treatment that is right for you will depend on your budget and eye condition.  Click the tabs below to get an overview of the treatment types offered. 

Followup surveys across multiple clinics in the UK indicate that more than 95% of patients report being satisfied with the results they’ve had through their surgery, with 33% going as far as deeming it ‘life-changing’.

Is It Safe?

Whilst the procedure has a very good safety record and does not hurt it is important to understand there are some risks and potential side effects with any surgery as shown in the tabs below. 

It should be noted that serious issues are rare and in the UK, regression occurs among only 5% of laser eye surgery patients. People who are likely to have regression are those with high prescriptions and/or are longsighted.

It’s common to experience some of the following side effects after your procedure but these will often disappear with time:

  • Vision changes. These include starbursts, glare, ghost images and halos. These are more common if you had a high prescription but should disappear within a few months.
  • Eye blurring and/or discomfort. As well as the dry sensation mentioned previously, some patients may find their eyes blur intermittently. Again, this should rectify itself within a few months.
  • Infection. Although rare, you are at risk of infection post-surgery, particularly if you’ve had a surface ablation (e.g. PRK).
  • Appearance. Red blotches can appear in the whites of your eyes and are caused by small blood leaks, but these aren’t harmful and don’t affect your eyes’ health. They should disappear within a few weeks.
 You can read more about the potential side effects here.
  • Glare, halos and double vision. Most common at night, these symptoms do tend to disappear within several.
  • Dry eyes. For up to six months after your operation you may experience dry, gritty sensations in your eyes, which can affect the quality of your vision. Eye drops often help ease these symptoms, though.
  • Undercorrection or overcorrection. Sometimes, not enough or too much tissue is removed which may mean you need further surgery. The latter is harder to rectify due to the amount of tissue that’s already been removed.
  • Astigmatism. This occurs when tissue is removed unevenly and glasses, contact lenses or more surgery may be required.
  • Changes to or loss of vision. In extremely rare cases, vision loss can arise due to a complication in surgery. Some patients also find they can’t see as sharply or clearly as they did before the procedure.


Prices for both eye can vary from £1,190 to over £6,000 based on the treatment type, the clinic selected and sometimes the severity of your prescription. To get more detailed information on prices broken down by treatments and clinic read our guide on laser eye surgery costs.

If you’d like to get prices for your local clinics please complete our short comparison form