LASIK is not the only option for patients hoping to correct vision and achieve freedom from glasses and contacts. Photorefractive keratectomy, often known as PRK, is a similar procedure that treats vision problems caused by refractive errors. These include myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism.
As the procedure lacks LASIK’s name recognition, patients may have questions about the PRK procedure and PRK recovery times. Anyone considering PRK should understand some basic information about the surgery and what to expect in the days and weeks that follow.
Both PRK and Lasik correct refractive errors by operating on a patient’s cornea. In LASIK, the ophthalmologist creates a flap on the surface of the cornea. This flap is put back in place at the end of surgery.
Rather than creating a flap, in PRK the surgeon removes a superficial layer of tissues called the epithelium. The doctor then uses a laser to sculpt the deeper layer of the patient’s cornea.
At the end of the surgery, the doctor does not repair the epithelium. The tissues will regenerate on their own in 24 to 48 hours. However, the surface of the epithelium remains irregular and takes 10-14 days to smooth fully.
Some people prefer LASIK to other refractive surgeries because of its fast recovery time. Visual recovery for LASIK typically begins immediately, and patients can resume day-to-day activities shortly after surgery.
However, LASIK may not be the best option for all patients hoping to improve their vision. People with active jobs and lifestyles may prefer PRK as the realigned flap in LASIK can dislodge during strenuous activity.
Additionally, LASIK and other refractive surgeries are not recommended for people with dry eyes and thin corneas. PRK is considered a better choice for patients with these conditions.
PRK has a longer recovery time than popular refractive surgeries like LASIK. The epithelium, which the eye doctor removes in the procedure, needs time to regrow.
You can envision the PRK recovery process like a cut in your skin. Following the cut, a scab forms. Over time the skin smooths over and covers the scab and wound.
PRK recovery times will vary from person to person. However, there are several common developments most patients can expect in the days and weeks following surgery.
It takes the epithelium around 24 to 48 hours to heal and cover the cornea. During this period, patients may experience pain and discomfort. At our office, we recommend patients stay at home in a dimly lit room for the first one to two days after surgery.
Patients will also be given a soft protective contact lens (known as a “bandage soft contact lens”) to wear 5-7 days after the procedure. This lens gives patients comfort and safety during the healing period.
Additionally, doctors may prescribe postoperative eye drops and schedule follow-up visits to monitor the patient’s progress.
In the weeks after surgery, the epithelium will heal and restore to its natural state. During this time, patients will notice gradual improvements to their vision.
Even as vision begins to improve, doctors may recommend patients avoid certain activities and environments. These include swimming, traveling, tiring activities, and spending time in dusty spaces. PRK recovery times will vary by patient. However, most people can expect a full recovery within 2 to 4 weeks after surgery.
PRK has a long history and an impressive success rate. Almost all patients who follow their doctor’s postoperative instructions can expect a swift and safe recovery.
To ensure a successful recovery and cut down on PRK recovery time, patients should consider:
Avoiding bright light and strenuous activity after surgery: Patients should remain at home in a dimly lit environment for two days following the procedure.
Taking the necessary time off from work, personal, and social obligations so the eye can heal.
Diligently following the postoperative regimen recommended by your doctor. This can include applying prescription eye drops, wearing soft protective contact lenses, and attending post-op doctor visits.
Not participating in activities that can impair or impede progress, such as swimming, intense exercise, and travel.
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