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Laser eye surgery most often involves a reshaping of the cornea - different techniques are used to correct short-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism. By changing the thickness and shape of the front of your eye, a surgeon is able to alter how well you see. In many cases, patients are able to do away with glasses or contact lenses altogether.
It can also be used to treat other conditions such as a thickening of the lens capsule following cataract surgery as well as some types of macular degeneration.
Generally speaking laser eye surgery for refractive (focusing) problems must be paid for but where it can correct a condition that may lead to loss of vision, it may be available on the NHS.
The College of Optometrists lists the following as the most common types of laser surgery:
LASIK (laser assisted in situ keratomileusis)
First introduced in the 1990s, LASIK is the most common type of laser eye surgery used in the UK. By cutting across the cornea and raising a flap of tissue, the surface can be reshaped before the flap is replaced and this method can correct most refractive errors, though it may not be suitable for severe problems.
PRK (photo refractive keratectomy)
This procedure, first performed during the 1980s, has largely been overtaken by the introduction of LASIK and LASEK and is usually used for those who need only minor sight adjustments. No flap of tissue is cut with this type of surgery - instead the front layer of the cornea (the epithelium) is removed completely and grows back after the operation.
LASEK (laser assisted sub epithelia keratomileusis)
Similar to PRK, LASEK surgery uses a small blade to lift the epithelium, which means a thinner layer can be cut making it particularly good for those with a thin cornea. The epithelium is retained, which is thought to help prevent complications and thereby shorten the recovery period.
With Wavefront-guided LASIK, the natural irregularities in the eye are reduced, allowing them to focus correctly and improve vision.
Some laser eye surgery patients find they have dry eyes in the months following their procedure, while many experience a glare or halo effect when driving at night though the problem is rarely severe and improves over time.
Of course, there are cases in which thinning of the eye wall causes the shape of the eye to become unstable and loss of vision can occur. But it is worth knowing that complications arise in less than five per cent of cases (according to the NHS).
If you are considering laser eye surgery, speak to your optometrist who will be able to discuss the options with you and ensure that you choose the correct treatment.
Meanwhile The Royal College of Ophthalmologists recommends that doctors performing laser eye surgery are fully trained opthalmologists and should have specialist training in refractive surgery so be sure to check your doctor's credentials before going ahead.
For more information visit the NHS Choices website.