LASEK 101 – Facts You Should Know about LASEK
By Neil Smith
Published on April 14, 2010
Laser refractive surgery has made it possible for millions of people to lessen their dependence on glasses and contact lenses. Many people automatically associate the phrase "laser eye surgery" with LASIK, believing that they are synonymous terms. This can lead to great disappointment among those who find out they are not good candidates for LASIK surgery, often because they have thin corneas. Fortunately, however, there are alternatives to LASIK, including photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) and, more recently, laser-assisted sub-epithelial keratomileusis, or LASEK.
Like LASIK, LASEK involves the use of an excimer laser to reshape the cornea. Also like LASIK, it can be used to correct a wide range of refractive errors, including nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, presbyopia, and higher order aberrations. The primary difference between LASIK and LASEK lies in how the underlying corneal tissue that needs to be reshaped is accessed. In LASIK, a cutting instrument called a microkeratome (or, in all-laser LASIK, a laser) is used to create a flap in the outermost layer of the cornea, called the epithelium. In LASEK, an alcohol solution is used to loosen the epithelial cells while an ultra-fine blade called a trephine is used to make a much smaller flap than in LASIK. As a result, patients with thin corneas that preclude them from undergoing LASIK may be ideal candidates for LASEK.
The healing period associated with LASEK is longer than that associated with LASIK (four to seven days versus one to three days). Best visual acuity requires about six to eight to achieve with LASEK. However, there is a greatly reduced risk of flap complications with LASEK. LASEK patients may experience greater discomfort than LASIK patients, though many find the results justify the temporary lack of comfort.
To find out whether you are a suitable candidate for LASIK, LASEK, PRK, or any other form of laser eye surgery, consult with a laser eye surgeon. An evaluation of your cornea will allow him or her to recommend the procedure best suited to your needs and goals.