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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Is Laser Eye Surgery Painful?

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Laser eye surgery is providing millions of people with clearer vision and reducing their dependence on glasses or contact lenses. The prospect of a better vision is enticing. Yet, many candidates for laser eye surgery have concerns about accompanying pain and discomfort.

Here we will talk about the various aspects of the procedure to answer common questions such as: Is laser eye surgery painful? Are you awake during laser eye surgery? Do the eyes hurt after? And more.

We aim to help individuals make the right decisions about laser vision correction. So in this article, we are addressing these concerns and providing insights.

The Basics of Laser Eye Surgery

Laser eye surgery encompasses a range of procedures to correct common vision problems. Most often those are myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. The most well-known procedures are LASIK and PRK.

LASIK (Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis)

LASIK is a popular refractive surgery that reshapes the cornea (the clear front part of the eye) to correct vision problems. During LASIK surgery, a flap is created on the cornea, and an excimer laser reshapes the underlying tissue. This procedure has a quick recovery time and minimal discomfort.

PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy)

PRK is another laser eye surgery technique. It does not involve creating a corneal flap. Instead, the outer layer of the cornea (the epithelium) is cut away. Then the excimer laser works to reshape the cornea. PRK is often a good option for individuals with thinner corneas or specific eye conditions. Recovery from PRK may cause more discomfort than LASIK, particularly in the initial days after surgery.

Anesthesia in Laser Eye Surgery

One of the most significant concerns people have is the fear of experiencing pain during the procedure. The good news is, that anesthesia plays a pivotal role in ensuring patient comfort throughout the surgery.

Topical Anesthesia

In both LASIK and PRK, topical anesthesia in the form of eye drops numbs the eye surface. A doctor administers them before the surgery begins, ensuring patients do NOT feel pain during the procedure itself. Most patients describe the sensation as mild pressure or discomfort rather than pain.


In some cases, especially for patients who may experience anxiety during laser eye surgery, anxiolytic medications can relax them. These medications can contribute to a more comfortable experience, even though the procedure itself is typically painless.

What to Expect During Laser Eye Surgery?

Now that we understand the role of anesthesia, let's explore what happens during laser eye surgery.

LASIK Procedure

During LASIK, the patient lays comfortably on a surgical bed. With an instrument called a microkeratome (very rarely used) or a femtosecond laser, the eye doctor creates a thin corneal flap. The patient then looks at a target light, and the excimer laser reshapes the cornea. The whole procedure usually takes only a few minutes per eye.

PRK Procedure

In PRK, the surgeon gently removes the outer layer of the cornea to expose the underlying tissue. The excimer laser then reshapes the cornea. Since no flap is created in PRK, some patients may experience a gritty (foreign body) sensation during the first few days of recovery.

Are You Awake During Laser Eye Surgery?

Yes, patients are awake during both LASIK and PRK. Yet, the topical anesthesia ensures they do not feel any pain. They may experience pressure, mild discomfort, or a touch sensation, but these sensations are bearable.

Post-Operative Discomfort

So, does laser eye surgery hurt after? While the actual surgery is relatively quick and painless, discomfort may occur during the recovery process. Let's explore what to expect.

Immediate Post-Operative Period

Some of the common discomforts immediately after the surgery are:

  • Burning sensations

  • Itching sensations

  • Watering eyes

  • Sensitivity to light

These symptoms are only temporary and should subside within a few hours.

The First Few Days

In the days following the laser eye surgery, it is common to experience some level of discomfort, particularly in PRK. That's because the surface of the cornea is healing. The process can cause:

  • Sensations of grittiness

  • Foreign body sensations

  • Fluctuations in vision

  • Mild sensitivity to light

To manage discomfort, your ophthalmologist will likely prescribe lubricating eye drops and anti-inflammatory medications, too.

Taking it easy during the initial days following laser eye surgery is crucial for a smooth recovery. Avoiding physical activities, screen time, and exposure to dust or smoke, can promote healing and reduce discomfort.

Long-Term Recovery

Most patients notice significant improvements in their vision within a few days to a week after laser eye surgery. Besides, the healing process varies from person to person.

Full stabilization of vision may take several weeks to a few months. During this time, you may experience occasional discomfort or dryness. If you decide to take any medications, follow your surgeon's instructions on pain management to ensure a safe and speedy recovery.

Learn more about your eye health in our medical blog for patients.

laser eye surgery

Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.


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