Eye Health

Updated 13 February 2015

Laser eye surgery

The how, why what and for whom of laser surgery.

  • What is laser eye surgery?
  • Can I have laser eye surgery?
  • Frequently asked questions
  • What does laser eye surgery cost?

Are you tired of wearing glasses or contact lenses?

See the benefits! Swim in the sea, dive into the pool, cycle in the countryside and see it all like you've never seen it before. You'll discover the natural freedom that laser vision correction may bring to your life. This safe, professional, hi-tech vision correction is here.

Laser surgery has made it possible for many people to achieve clear, natural vision without the use of, or with less dependence on glasses or contact lenses. The first laser procedures were performed in Berlin, Germany in 1987. Since that time, millions of procedures have been performed for people around the world and the procedure has evolved.

Laser eye surgery is effective in correcting nearsightedness and astigmatism. After extensive analysis of your eye, your ophthalmologist programmes the excimer laser to vaporise away corneal tissue one microscopic layer at a time. With a modified corneal curvature, focusing problems are reduced or eliminated. Eyes usually heal impressively well, and the results are good, with most people achieving normal or near normal natural vision. You will not stay in the hospital overnight, the entire procedure does not take long and is not painful. You remain awake during the procedure and you will not receive any injections as only eye drops are used for anaesthesia.

The two most common laser procedures are PRK and LASIK. When performing LASIK, the ophthalmologist uses a special oscillating blade to make a thin flap of corneal tissue. Then the cornea is lasered, and the flap is replaced. The corneal tissue has excellent natural bonding qualities that allow effective healing without the use of stitches. When doing PRK, the superficial layer of the eye is wiped away before the laser is done. This layer then grows back. Your ophthalmologist will discuss the best type of laser procedure for your eyes with you.

A specific end result cannot be guaranteed, although it can be closely predicted based on data from thousands of previous cases. As with any surgical procedure, laser surgery is occasionally associated with risks that you must consider when deciding whether to have the surgery. Serious complications are very rare. Most complications settle with medication or further surgery. You will probably have functional vision to resume normal activities and work within one to four days.

Are you a candidate for surgery?

You must:

  • be over 20 years old

  • not be pregnant

  • have eyes in the correctable range

  • have had a stable refraction (glasses or contact lens strength) for the past year

  • have eyes with no complicating injuries or diseases (this will be assessed)

Frequently asked questions

Can you guarantee me 20/20 vision, and can you guarantee that I will be free of spectacles or contact lenses forever?

The results are excellent and usually by the next day you will notice a remarkable improvement in your natural (or uncorrected) vision. Please ask your ophthalmologist to show you on the eye vision chart what you can expect to see after the eye has healed. For those few people whose quality of vision is not sufficiently improved, enhancement surgery or thin glasses for some tasks such as night driving may be necessary. Most people do not need or want additional surgery, but the higher the amount of initial correction necessary, the greater the possibility of needing enhancement surgery for full correction. Sunglasses are recommended for bright sunlight, and when you are approximately 45 you will need reading glasses.

Does the surgery hurt?

The laser procedure itself does not hurt. For approximately one to three days after the procedure, you will feel minimal to moderate discomfort depending on whether you have PRK or LASIK.

What are the long-term effects?

The data since 1987 has revealed that the eye heals well, and there is no indication that you need to be concerned about the long-term effects. However, the long-term effects are unknown.

Is it possible to have surgery on both eyes on the same day?

Most people choose to have surgery on both eyes on the same day because the surgery is very safe. Also the inconvenience of having the surgery and recovering only occurs once. However, it is also acceptable to have each eye operated on separate days.

I'm over 50 years of age, will the surgery still work for me?

Yes, however, you will need reading glasses to see clearly up close. You will also be carefully checked for a cataract in both eyes because with cataract surgery you can also have your nearsightedness or farsightedness corrected for.

When can I drive and return to work after the operation?

Your vision is usually clear enough to drive within one to three days after the procedure. However, you should not drive until you feel comfortable with your vision. Most people can return to work within two to four days.

If I need to, can I wear contact lenses after laser surgery?

Most patients do not require the contact lenses afterwards. Generally if you were able to wear contact lenses comfortably prior to surgery, you will be able to wear them again after surgery. You may take some time to build up to the same number of hours that you were able to wear contact lenses before surgery (like starting with contact lenses all over again).

Does anybody’s vision ever turn out worse after laser surgery?

In very rare cases, yes. In order for vision to turn out worse than it was before the surgery, a significant complication would need to arise, which is rare. Your ophthalmologist will discuss these risks with you during the consultation.

Surgery fees

Your initial consultation is not very expensive and is covered by most medical aids. If you are on a medical aid, after the consultation, a letter or fax will be sent to your medical aid to ask them how much they will pay towards the cost of the procedure. You may also request a detailed list of the costs from the Cape Eye Centre staff. This cost includes all follow up appointments for four months and in the unlikely event of you needing enhancement procedures there will be no additional costs for one year.

What do I do now?

Excimer laser surgery has created a breakthrough in visual freedom. Millions of people in many countries around the world are already enjoying the benefits of this natural vision. If you are interested in knowing more about this surgery, please make an appointment with your ophthalmologist to have a comprehensive assessment of your eyes.

Useful resources:
South African Optometric Association
Tel: 011 805 4517
South African National Council for the Blind
Tel: 012 452 3811
Retina South Africa
Tel: 011 622 4904
Ophthalmological Society of South Africa


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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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