Laser eye surgery is carried out by ophthalmologists; specialists in eye conditions, treatment and surgery. It’s very important that wherever you have laser eye surgery that you check that your surgeon is properly qualified. Your surgeon must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC).
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists have introduced a non-mandatory assessment that leads to a certificate. It’s estimated that around half of all surgeons who do laser eye surgery have this certificate. The College recommends that in addition to being on the specialist GMC register and having this certificate, surgeons should also have had additional training specifically in laser eye surgery.
Laser surgery for correction of long-sightedness and short-sightedness isn’t usually available on the NHS. This is because these conditions can be treated with glasses or contact lenses. However, there are a few exceptions to this, such as if you’ve had a previous cornea transplant – ask your surgeon for more information. You may be able to have the procedure at an NHS hospital, but they’ll usually charge a fee.
To find a surgeon, speak to your optometrist (your optician). They can advise you on clinics in your area and may be able to refer you to a surgeon
If you want to find a surgeon yourself, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists has a search tool you can use. However, this doesn’t mean that the college recommends the surgeon, but you can see their specialist areas of knowledge and check their credentials. You can also check them on the General Medical Council website.
Laser eye surgery isn’t suitable for everyone. Most clinics will only carry out this procedure if you:
- are 21 or over
- are in good general health
- have healthy eyes
- have had a stable prescription (very little change in your eyesight) for two to three years
There may be specific health reasons that laser eye surgery isn’t your best option. Your surgeon will discuss these with you. Laser eye surgery isn’t usually carried out while you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Before your laser eye surgery, you should have an assessment appointment. You’ll have a variety of tests to check the health of your eyes and your eyesight, and you should meet your surgeon (ophthalmologist). This is your chance to discuss the benefits and possible risks of laser eye surgery.
It’s possible for you to be able have one eye or both eyes done at the same time.
Be aware that you may not be able to drive for a few hours afterwards, as you may be having drops that blur your vision. It’s important that you don’t wear your contact lenses to your assessment or your surgery. You’ll need to leave them out for several days (soft lenses) or several weeks (gas permeable/hard lenses) beforehand. Your contact lenses change the shape of your cornea, so you need to leave them out to give your eyes time to change back. If you don’t do this, your surgeon won’t be able to take the measurements they need.
Be prepared for a stay of at least one hour on your treatment day. Ask someone to come with you and drive you home afterwards.
You’ll lie on a reclining chair under the laser. Your surgeon will put local anaesthetic drops in your eye. They’ll then use a special lid ‘clip’ to keep your eye open during the procedure.
The exact details of the laser surgery may vary slightly depending on which type you’re having. For LASIK, your surgeon will place a suction ring on your eye. This flattens the cornea and helps stop your eye moving. Your vision will be dim, or it will seem dark while this suction ring is in place.
You’ll look at a flashing red or green light, and then your surgeon will fire the laser. This takes around 30 seconds. You may be aware of a faint smell of burning.
Afterwards, your surgeon will put a plastic shield on your eye which should stay in place for 24 hours.
Your surgeon may recommend that you wear a protective plastic shield over your eyes at night for the first week or so. They’ll give you drops containing antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines, and artificial tears.
Most people go back to work within a few days to a week. Ask your surgeon about when it’s safe to drive again – this may be a week or two.
Your vision is likely to become stable within about a month. However, it may take up to 9 months in some cases.
Complications happen in fewer than one in 20 people who have the procedure. However, with all surgical procedures, there are some risks – make sure your surgeon talks to you about them.
Some people get complications which eventually disappear in time, although in a few people they may be permanent. These include:
- dry eyes
- hazy or blurry vision
- glare or halo effects – especially when driving at night
Some people need a second treatment because of under or over correction of their eyesight. Or you may still need to wear glasses for some tasks. Very occasionally, the cornea can weaken and affect your vision. It’s also possible that your vision may become worse than it was before laser eye surgery.
- A patients’ guide to excimer laser refractive surgery. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, 2011. www.rcophth.ac.uk
- Laser refractive surgery. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists. www.rcophth.ac.uk, published 10 July 2014
- LASIK - laser eye surgery. American Academy of Ophthalmology. www.aao.org, published 12 December 2015
- What is an optometrist? The College of Optometrists. www.college-optometrists.org, accessed 26 May 2016
- Frequently asked questions. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists. www.rcophth.ac.uk, published 27 February 2015
- Photorefractive (laser) surgery for the correction of refractive errors. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2006. www.nice.org.uk
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Specialist Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, June 2016.
Peer reviewed by Professor Simon Taylor, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon.
Next review due June 2019.
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of Health Content
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
- Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
- Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
- Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road