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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.
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 are not suitable if:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Treatment Type (Prices Are Per Eye)||From||To|
|LASEK / PRK||£1,195||£1,795|
|Company||Treatment Name||Consultation||Price Per Eye|
|Optical Express||LASIK with iDesign||Free||£1,495|
|Company||Treatment Name||Consultation||Price Per Eye|
|Focus||LASIK (blade-free)||£25-£50 *||£2,400 – £2,800|
|London Vision Clinic||LASIK (blade-free)||Free||£2,600 – £3,250|
|Centre for Sight||IntraLASIK Supracor||£500 **||£2,675|
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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