Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK): Before Your Surgery

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Cross section of the eye

What is photorefractive keratectomy?

Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is surgery to improve how well you can see. It reshapes the outer part of your eyeball, called the cornea. This surgery can fix vision problems in one or both eyes. These problems include nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.

To do the surgery, the doctor first cleans your eye and puts drops in it. The drops numb your eye. Then the doctor uses special tools to keep your eye open. The cells on the surface of your eye are removed or pulled to one side. With a laser, the doctor then removes tissue and reshapes your cornea. Then the doctor puts a contact lens on your eye to protect it. The doctor will remove the lens 2 to 4 days after surgery.

PRK surgery takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Before surgery, you may get medicine to help you relax. During surgery, you may feel a little pressure in your eye. For 3 or 4 days after surgery, your eyes may burn or itch. You may feel like there is something in your eye. Your eye may also water more than usual.

You may see better as soon as the surgery is over. Or things may look blurry for a few days. You will probably be able to go back to work or your normal routine in about 3 to 7 days.

For some people, it takes 3 to 6 months to see as clearly as possible. But most people no longer need glasses or contact lenses.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when to bathe or shower before your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The surgery will take about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • After the surgery, you will have a contact lens on your eye. You will be able to see through the lens, but it will be blurry. Your doctor may tell you to keep your eye closed as much as possible for up to 24 hours.
  • You will get drops in your eye. These will help it heal and prevent infection.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.