Learn more about the benefits of laser vision correction

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up in the morning and be able to see the alarm clock? Or be able to read or watch TV without needing glasses?

With vision correction, also called refractive surgery, all that is possible.

UPMC offers two types of vision correction surgery. Laser vision correction involves using a laser to change the shape of your cornea. The other involves inserting a lens inside your eye to adjust where light focuses in the back of your eye. Both procedures are used to reduce or eliminate the need for contacts or glasses.

To understand how laser vision correction works, you can think of the eye as a camera that focuses light to record images. The cornea – the transparent cover of the eye – is rounded to let it focus light on the retina – the back of the eye – to create the image.

The term used for this bending and focusing of light is “refraction.” If your cornea isn’t shaped exactly right, it might focus light behind or in front of the retina, causing blurry or distorted vision. These are called refractive errors.

Eyeglasses and contact lenses can correct refractive errors, but some people find them bothersome. Certain sports and jobs make wearing eyeglasses uncomfortable, and some people are unable to wear contact lenses. For them, vision correction or refractive surgery might be an option.

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Who Is a Candidate for Vision Correction Surgery?

“When patients come to us inquiring about this procedure, either I or one of my fellow surgeons will see them from start to finish,” explains Deepinder Dhaliwal, MD, LAc, director of cornea and refractive surgery at UPMC Eye Center. “During the patient’s initial visit, we perform a comprehensive eye exam to ensure they are a good candidate with healthy eyes.”

A good candidate for laser vision correction generally is one who has a stable refraction. That means their eyeglasses or contact prescription should not be changing over time. In addition, because the shape of the eye changes as we grow, refractive surgery is not considered until you are at least 18 years of age.

Who Is Not a Candidate for Refractive Surgery?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vision correction surgery could be risky if you have any of the following:

  • A changing refractive error.
  • Certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • A chronic illness that may slow wound healing, such as diabetes.
  • Use of medications that can affect healing.
  • Dry eye, cataracts, glaucoma, or other eye problems.
  • An unusually shaped or very thin cornea.

How Is Vision Correction Surgery Done?

After you’ve been identified as a good candidate, a second appointment is made to have the procedure. The most common type of refractive surgery is LASIK. Other methods include photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) or implantable collamer lens (ICL) placement.

LASIK and PRK use lasers to change the shape of the cornea. They differ by how and where the laser removes tissue. ICL placement involves placing a synthetic lens inside your eye. Your ophthalmologist or eye surgeon will help you determine which procedure is best for your vision correction.

Laser vision correction is performed as an outpatient procedure. Topical anesthetic in the form of eyedrops is used, which means there are no needles.

“Using a laser, the surgeon shapes the cornea,” says Dr. Dhaliwal. “This process usually takes 10 to 15 minutes per eye.”

Once the procedure is complete you are able to go home. You may leave wearing clear plastic patches to protect your eyes. You also will be prescribed eyedrops and given a schedule for using them. You will need a driver to take you home after your procedure.

Many people notice they are already able to see better on the ride home. But when you return for your follow-up appointment the next day, your vision should be significantly improved.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Minor side effects are normal after laser vision surgery and usually go away with time. They include:

  • Dry eyes.
  • Pain or a scratchy feeling.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Double vision.
  • Some people may need a second procedure to fine-tune the correction.

Rarely do these side effects become permanent and rarely does refractive surgery make vision worse.

Although laser vision correction is usually considered to be an elective procedure, an ophthalmologist trained in refractive surgery can help you determine if it is right for you.

For more information about laser vision correction surgery, call the UPMC Vision Institute Refractive and Laser Surgery Center at 412-647-2917 to schedule a free evaluation and meet our staff and surgeons. Or visit our website for more information.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.