What is Refractive Surgery?Refractive errors are problems in the shape of the eye that prevent light from being focused as it should. Small changes to the shape of the cornea (the clear, dome-shaped layer covering the front of the eye) and length of the eyeball can make vision blurry. Refractive surgery is any surgery on the eye that corrects a refractive error, improving vision and reducing the need for glasses and contacts. The most well-known refractive surgery is LASIK surgery, but there are several kinds. LASIK surgery uses lasers to reshape the cornea. It can be used to treat most cases of near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and astigmatism. An ophthalmologist cuts away a flap of tissue covering the cornea, then guides a laser to lower or raise the curve of the cornea or to smooth out the surface of one with irregularities. It only takes 10 - 15 minutes per eye, and it is permanent. LASEK is a very similar procedure that involves a thinner 'flap' under which the ophthalmologist operates. It may take slightly longer to heal, but it is a better choice for people with thin corneas. There are several other kinds of surgery that reshape the cornea, including photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), conductive keratoplasty (CK), and laser thermal keratoplasty (LTK). While these procedures are not always as effective at vision correction as LASIK, they are also not as invasive. Unlike LASIK, they do not involve cutting open the flap of corneal tissue at the beginning of the procedure. PRK trims only the top layer of the cornea, while CK and LTK use heat to create precise scarring that will reshape it. There also may be less risk of side effects. For severe cases of myopia, or nearsightedness, a procedure called phakic intraocular lenses may be used. These are like an implantable contact lens that is permanently inserted into the eye, in front of the natural lens. Although an optician can refer patients to a surgeon, refractive surgery can only be performed by an ophthalmologist. A complete eye exam and consultation should always be performed. While recovery may take a few days of discomfort and blurry vision, it can lead to a lifetime free of glasses and contacts.
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