LASIK is the common name associated with laser eye surgery. The forefather of this procedure is called PRK, and it is still performed on a widespread basis instead of the more well known LASIK. PRK stands for photorefractive keratectomy and it differs from LASIK in that instead of cutting open a flap to access the eye, the top layer of the cornea is actually wiped away entirely. This typically reduces the chances of complications, but it also increases recovery time.
PRK surgery is sometimes preferred to LASIK because of the reduced risk of complications. LASIK involves cutting a flap in the cornea, and it is this flap that gives the greatest risk of infections and complications. PRK, rather, involves gently rubbing away the top layer of cornea, leaving less room for complications, but requiring a longer recovery period. The surgery is completely painless for the majority of patients. While there is some discomfort involved when the surgeon is wiping away the cornea, the patient will have been given pain medication, usually orally, as well as numbing drops for the eyes. The following couple of days will usually be the most painful. For this reason, most surgeons prescribe Vicodin and tetracaine drops that the patient may use as needed. This immediate recovery time (three days following the surgery) should be spent doing as little as possible, particularly as it pertains to using the eyes.
Long Term Recovery
Five days out from the surgery, the patient will usually have his temporary "bandage" lenses removed and will be able to resume normal activities. The exception would be vigorous exercise, or any sport or activity that would result in eye contact (boxing, for example). Unlike LASIK patients, who often will have achieved the full benefits of the surgery by this time, PRK patients may have to wait up to six months to finally see exactly how the surgery went. They will be able to see during this time, and able to see well, but it may be premature to gauge the true limits of the patient's vision until six months out.
The Patient's Role
There are many things the patient should do during his recovery to speed the process and ensure thorough healing. Most doctors will recommend omega 3s as a vital supplement. These supplements help lock moisture into skin cells, and can help the patient avoid dry eye syndrome. Omega 3s come in supplement form as either fish oil pills or flaxseed, or can be obtained through diet in the form of two or more fish meals per week. The patient is also advised to avoid fans and extended computer work as much as possible, particularly in the first week or so after surgery, as these can contribute to dry eyes.
In some cases, the patient and the doctor may not be seeing the results they want after six months. It should be noted that these cases are very rare in comparison with the number of cases where the surgery is a success the first time out. Still, it is worth asking the doctor if he will perform the surgery again for free if the results are not optimal. Most reputable surgeons have such a program in place and will discuss this before the surgery. If another surgery is necessary, the recovery time following the second PRK will be the same as the first one.
While true recovery is done within the first year after PRK surgery, it is important that patients continue to care for their eyes following this procedure. This includes keeping eye drops at the ready for moistening, wearing sunglasses whenever driving or out in the daylight, and supplementing with omega 3s and vitamins on a regular basis.