Dr. Sherman examining patient's eyes

How Lasik Eye Surgery Works

If you’re like most people, your vision is less than perfect, and you rely on glasses or contacts to improve it. But what if you didn’t have to? What if your vision could be restored to 20/20 or considerably closer to that ideal than it is now? That is what corrective vision surgery, such as LASIK eye surgery, can accomplish.

As its name implies, corrective vision surgery is a procedure that a trained, licensed, and experienced eye surgeon performs on your eyes, generally on an outpatient basis, that substantially improves your vision.

Numerous corrective vision surgery types exist, including the following:

  • LASIK, i.e., laser in-situ keratomileusis
  • PRK, i.e., photorefractive keratectomy
  • LASEK, i.e., laser epithelial keratomileusis
  • ALK, i.e., automated lamellar keratoplasty
  • RLE, i.e., refractive lens exchange
  • EpiLasik
  • PRELEX, i.e., presbyopic lens exchange
  • Intacs
  • Phakic Intraocular Lens Implants
  • AK, i.e., astigmatic keratonomy

While the medical names for these procedures can be more than a little overwhelming for prospective patients, your eye care professional can recommend which one best suits your precise vision difficulty and its causes.


LASIK and PRK are the two most widely performed procedures to improve vision. Both modify your cornea, the five layers of transparent tissue that cover the front of your eye, and bend, i.e., refract, to focus light that lets you see. Both can improve myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism, which is an imperfection in the curvature of your cornea that causes blurry vision.

You feel no pain during either procedure because your eye surgeon puts numbing drops in your eye and may also give you a mild sedative to relax you. 

The main differences between LASIK and PRK are the methods used to correct your vision and your recovery time afterward.

In LASIK, your eye surgeon uses a laser or extremely tiny blade to make a small flap in your cornea. After raising this flap, he or she then uses a laser to reshape your cornea. The flap is then lowered and ultimately repairs itself without the need for stitches. The results are almost immediate, and you’ll see an improvement in your vision by the end of the fourth day.

In PRK, your eye surgeon removes the epithelium, the top layer, of your cornea. He or she then uses a laser to reshape your cornea. Again, no stitches are needed because the cornea repairs itself. You will, however, need to wear an eye patch for as long as 30 days while your eye heals.

Both procedures cost between $2,500 and $5,000, depending on the area of the country where you live. In general, PRK tends to be somewhat more expensive because of the need for more post-op check-ups. 

Unfortunately, health insurance plans usually don’t cover either procedure because they’re considered elective surgeries.

What Happens During LASIK Surgery

If you wear contacts, your eye surgeon will likely ask you to stop wearing them at least two weeks before your scheduled procedure. Why? Because contacts can temporarily alter your cornea’s natural shape.

After putting numbing drops in your eyes and, if necessary, giving you a mild sedative to relax you if you’re nervous, the procedure proceeds in three steps:

1. Your eye surgeon uses a femtosecond laser tool to make a flap in your cornea.

2. He or she next raises this flap and moves it to the side while using lasers to reshape your cornea. If you’re nearsighted, he or she will flatten your cornea. If you’re farsighted, he or she will create a steeper cornea. If you have astigmatism, he or she will use an excimer laser to smooth out your cornea’s irregularities.

3. Finally, he or she replaces the flap over the rest of your cornea so everything can heal naturally.

That’s it! You’re good to go after only about 15 minutes. Remember, however, that someone will need to drive you home and drive you back for your next-day follow-up appointment.