Illustration of laser eye surgery
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Does Laser Eye Surgery Hurt?

Key Takeaways | Aspect | Detail | | — | — | | Pain During Surgery | Usually painless due to anaesthetic drops | | Pain Post-Surgery | Potential for slight discomfort; manageable with eye drops and painkillers | | LASIK, LASEK, SMILE | Differences in pain levels for each type of surgery | | Preparation | Steps to prepare for surgery and minimize discomfort | | Pain Management | Recommendations for post-operative care |

How Much Does Laser Eye Surgery Hurt?

When considering laser eye surgery, a common question is, “Does laser eye surgery hurt?” It’s a valid question – after all, the idea of a laser making adjustments to your eyes sounds daunting.

The short answer is No when talking about LASIK or SMILE lenticule extraction. But let’s get into more detail.

Of course, for any surgery, it is normal to wonder if there will be severe pain during or afterwards. For many, the thought of how much it might hurt decides if they will go ahead or stick with glasses and contact lenses.

There are three main types of laser eye surgery:


  • LASEK (also known as PRK)

  • SMILE lenticule extraction

The experience varies depending on which correction technique you have. Click here to learn more about LASIK, LASEK and SMILE laser eye surgery.

Each type of laser eye surgery is similar in ability to free you from glasses and contact lenses. Each approach is considered safe and effective life-changing surgery.

However, the reality of what you will experience during and after laser eye surgeries like LASIK, LASEK, and SMILE is often less intense than many anticipate. Many report that laser eye surgery hurts less than going to the dentist.

During the Laser Correction

The actual treatment is generally pain-free for all types of laser eye surgery. This is primarily due to the application of anaesthetic-numbing eye drops before treatment. These numb the eye area effectively, ensuring the patient feels nothing during the correction.

While the treatment is usually painless, some patients may feel pressure on their eyes.

LASEK patients will experience the most afterwards, even if the treatment is perhaps the easiest.


While the treatment is usually painless, it’s the post-operative phase where patients might experience some symptoms. These sensations, however, are typically mild and short-lived for LASIK and SMILE.

However, LASEK (and PRK) are painful for 2-3 days after surgery. This is because it takes time for the skin to heal.

Sore eyes after laser eye surgery

In most cases, it can be effectively managed with prescribed drops and, if necessary, painkillers. Following your surgeon’s instructions closely during this phase is important to ensure a smooth recovery.

General Anaesthesia and Sedation for Laser Eye Surgery

Laser eye surgery is routinely performed under local anaesthesia. General anaesthesia, or sleeping through your operation, is not a good idea as you will need to maintain focus on a small LED target during surgery to ensure the treatment is delivered precisely to the cornea.

In the UK, sedation may be offered if you are very nervous. Other countries may offer sedation routinely.

Click here to read our full guide to sedation and anaesthesia during laser eye surgery.

Types of Laser Eye Surgery and Pain Levels

Each type of laser eye surgery has slightly different procedures, influencing how much you feel after correction. All these eye operations last around five minutes per eye.

  • LASIK: The most common form of laser eye surgery, LASIK involves creating a thin flap in the cornea, during which there is a slight pressure. Although you might feel this pressure during the treatment, it doesn’t hurt. Post-operative LASIK pain is rare, and most sensations are usually minimal. A protective eye shield is used during sleep to protect the flap.

  • LASEK: Unlike LASIK, LASEK does not involve creating a corneal flap, which can hurt it more afterwards because many corneal nerves get exposed when the surface skin is removed. Your surgeon immediately places a contact lens on the eye at the end, which helps reduce symptoms.

  • SMILE: SMILE is a newer form of laser eye surgery. Patients generally report little during and after the procedure, similar to LASIK.

Why Do People Think that LASIK Hurts?

LASIK patients now usually know that it is a very minimal experience and often choose it because of this. LASIK has become the world’s most popular laser eye surgery due to minimal pain and rapid vision recovery, faster than SMILE or LASEK.

Preparing for the Procedure

Preparation is key to reducing unpleasant sensations. Beforehand, your doctor will provide detailed instructions on how to prepare. This might include avoiding certain medications or using specific drops. Following these instructions carefully can help minimise sensations during and after the procedure. A mild sedative can be prescribed.

Managing Pain After Laser Eye Surgery

Pain management post-laser eye surgery is central to the recovery process. While the correction is typically painless due to the anaesthetic drops used, the healing phase can involve some discomfort. Here, we discuss effective strategies for managing post-operatively.

instilling eye drops after laser eye surgery

Immediate Post-Operative Care

Afterwards, it’s normal to experience some level of discomfort. This might manifest as a mild burning sensation or the feeling of having something in your eye. To mitigate these sensations:

  • Eye Drops: Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics and steroid drops, which help reduce inflammation.

  • Rest: Ensure you rest your eyes adequately afterwards. Avoiding strenuous activities and limiting screen time can help with the recovery process.

Anaesthetic Eye Drops, Painkillers and Sleeping Tablets

Anaesthetic numbing drops are used during the surgery to numb the eye. Post-surgery, these drops continue to play a role in keeping your eyes comfortable.

pain killers after laser eye surgery

Your doctor might prescribe painkillers to manage your symptoms. It’s important to take these medications as directed. If you have trouble sleeping, ask your surgeon about using sleeping tablets. If you are experiencing severe pain after treatment, contact your doctor.

Long-term Care and Healing

The recovery period varies depending on the type of operation:

  • LASIK: LASIK laser eye surgery patients often report rapid recovery, with only mild discomfort lasting only a few hours.

  • LASEK/PRK: The healing will be longer, with moderate pain potentially lasting 3-4 days. While LASEK patients feel more afterwards, it is the technique most commonly used by those participating in contact sports. LASEK is also used if there is any suspicion of weakness that could lead to corneal ectasia (a weakening of the cornea that can lead to a change in shape and prescription – usually linked to a disease called keratoconus).

  • SMILE: Recovery is typically quick, with most patients experiencing minimal symptoms.

It’s crucial to attend all follow-up appointments with your clinician. These appointments allow your surgeon to monitor your healing and promptly address concerns.

Tips for a Comfortable Recovery

  • Avoid Rubbing Your Eyes: This can aggravate your eyes and disrupt healing. It is especially important for LASIK patients.

  • Wear Sunglasses: Protect your eyes from bright lights and UV rays outdoors.

  • Stay Hydrated: Adequate hydration is essential for overall health and can aid healing.

  • Follow a Healthy Diet: A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals supports your body’s healing mechanisms.

  • Avoid using a hot tub: The water in a tub can carry bacteria.

Preparing for Different Types of Laser Eye Surgery

Different types of laser eye surgery have varying procedures and recovery experiences. Also, different peoples’ eyes heal at different rates. Understanding these differences can help you prepare better and manage your expectations more effectively.

You can read our post on preparing for laser eye surgery here.

Essential Aftercare for Optimal Recovery

Post-operative care is crucial in ensuring a smooth and comfortable recovery after laser eye surgery. Here, we outline the key aspects of aftercare that contribute to a comfortable healing process.

Follow-Up Appointments

Regular follow-up appointments are essential. These allow your surgeon to monitor your healing and address any concerns. Adhering to these appointments ensures that potential complications are caught and addressed early.

Managing Dry Eyes

Dry eyes are a common temporary side effect. Managing this effectively involves:

  • Artificial Tears: Regular lubricating tears can alleviate symptoms of dry eyes.

  • Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is key to reducing dry eye symptoms.

  • Humidifiers: A humidifier can provide relief, especially in dry environments.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Making some temporary lifestyle adjustments can significantly aid in your recovery:

  • Limit Screen Time: Reducing the time spent on screens can prevent eye strain and aid in healing.

  • Wear Protective Eyewear: To protect your eyes from dust, wind, and UV rays.

  • Avoid Strenuous Activities: This includes heavy lifting and vigorous exercise, which can increase eye pressure.

Nutritional Support

A healthy diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants can support eye health and aid in recovery. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, and vitamin E are particularly beneficial.

Concluding Thoughts

Laser eye surgery, be it LASIK, LASEK, or SMILE, is generally not painful, thanks to modern anaesthetic techniques. While some discomfort might be experienced (especially with LASEK), it is usually mild and manageable with proper care and medication.

You can ensure a comfortable and speedy recovery by following your surgeon’s instructions and the tips outlined in this article.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Is laser eye surgery painful?

    • Laser eye surgery is typically painless during the procedure, thanks to anaesthetic eye drops.

  2. What can I expect during LASIK surgery?

    • During LASIK, you’ll feel pressure. The procedure is quick, and recovery is relatively fast. Any soreness lasts only a few hours.

  3. How long does it hurt after LASEK surgery?

    • It does hurt after LASEK surgery, which can usually last for 3-4 days, but it is manageable with prescribed medication and care.

  4. Is SMILE surgery less painful than LASIK?

    • NO. Most patients report little both during and after each procedure. The experience with SMILE is very similar to LASIK.

  5. How can I manage dry eyes after laser eye surgery?

    • Using artificial tears, staying hydrated, and possibly using a humidifier can help manage dry eyes post-surgery.

  6. What dietary changes can support recovery from laser eye surgery?

    • Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E, and antioxidants can support eye health and aid in recovery.

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