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Laser surgery -- what you can expect

Considering laser eye surgery? While the procedure will vary depending on the ophthalmologist, the following outline gives a good handle on the sights, sounds and -- yes -- smells to expect. Cost averages range from $999 to $1,499 per eye, depending on the amount of correction necessary.

Pre-surgical exam (1.5 hours): An extensive eye exam, this will give your doctor the anatomy of your eye including pupil size, cornea curvature, and thickness of the cornea and retina. "It all plays a part in how you heal and your visual outcome," said nurse Lynn Davies. Since this is a dilated exam (where your pupils will be dilated), your eyes will be light sensitive, so bring a driver if necessary. At the very least bring sunglasses. A complete medical history will also be taken, Davies noted. For example, a diabetic patient may have retinal changes while patients with auto immune deficiencies could suffer compromised healing.

Surgery (One hour, with 15 minutes actually spent in the surgery room): After anesthetic drops are applied to the eye and you are positioned under the laser, your first task is to find the blinking green light. This light does nothing. It's just something for you to focus on and be still. An instrument will hold your eyelid open; a protective shield will cover the other eye.

For LASIK: The doctor will create the flap using an instrument called the microkeratone to make the incision. Expect a pressure sensation on the eye, and your vision to go dark for about 30 seconds. When the laser treatment starts, there will be no sensation whatsoever. What you see when the laser is running is one fantastic light show.

For PRK: Vision does not go dark, all else is the same.

Burnt hair smell: When the three gases that power the laser combine, the chemical reaction gives off a burning smell. Remember, this is a cold laser. Nothing is on fire. Nothing is burning.

Post Surgery: After you are taken from the surgery room, medicated drops/artificial tears are applied, and you are free to leave provided you have a driver. The numbing drops will wear off in 45 to 60 minutes. Expect to return the following day for a post-surgical visit. LASIK patients leave with hazy watery vision. PRK patients will leave with an eye patch.

Recovery: Some patients report glare and sensitivity to light during the month after surgery. Halo is an optical effect that becomes apparent in dim light, and can interfere with night driving. Halo (around lights) occurs less frequently with the larger treatment zones used today. (An important factor in deciding on a potential LASIK surgeon is the type of laser in use. The larger the area the laser can shape, the better.)

Risks: As with any eye surgery, there is a remote possibility of severe infection, corneal perforation, drug reaction, which could cause chronic pain, an unsightly eye, or partial or complete loss of vision.

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