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How Long Does Laser Eye Surgery Last?

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A close up of a woman's eye with a blue laser directed to the center of her eye, illustrating what it's like to have laser eye surgery

There are many different laser eye surgeries available today to improve your eyesight. These surgeries include LASIK, SMILE, PRK, and alternatives.  Each procedure works differently, but how long do their results last? 

Continue reading to learn more about the different laser eye surgeries and ICL, including what they are, how they work, and how long they last. 

What is Laser Eye Surgery? 

Laser eye surgery, or refractive surgery, is any surgical treatment that corrects your vision. These surgeries can resolve vision problems such as: 

Laser eye surgeries improve vision by reshaping the cornea.  There are many different types of laser eye surgery available today. Some common laser eye surgeries and alternatives include:


Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, better known as LASIK, is one of the most well-known refractive surgeries and provides excellent results to qualifying patients. An eye surgeon uses a laser to help reshape your cornea for improved vision.  When performing this technique, an initial layer is used to make a flap in the upper layers of your cornea.  This flap is gently lifted to expose the middle layer (stroma) of your cornea.  A second laser is used to reshape the middle layer of the cornea and the flap is carefully repositioned.


Small Incision Lenticule Extraction or SMILE has been shown to be comparable to LASIK in safety and effectiveness in qualifying patients.  Using only one laser, a thin lenticule is carved out of the laser from the middle layer (stroma) of the eye.  This layer cut lenticule is then removed through a small incision.  SMILE is thought to be safer for patients with an active lifestyle as no flap is required.


Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is the first type of laser eye surgery available.  It also provides excellent results in qualifying patients.  During PRK, the top skin-like layer of the cornea (epithelium) is gently removed. A laser is then used to shape the middle layer of the cornea (stroma) similar to LASIK . The top skin-like layer naturally grows back over 3 – 5 days, which further optimizes vision.  PRK is an effective laser surgery for all types of corneas and provides a safer alternative if you have a thin cornea or an active lifestyle


Implantable collamer lenses (ICL) are implants your ophthalmologist places inside your eye.  It is not a form of laser eye surgery, but provides excellent and safe results similar to LASIK, SMILE and PRK.  The ICL goes between the iris and the natural lens to help correct refractive errors. 

ICL surgery is an alternative for people who can’t undergo other laser eye surgeries like LASIK, SMILE or PRK.  It has a quick recovery time because your doctor doesn’t have to remove any tissue from the eye

While all types of laser eye surgery can improve your vision, as well as ICL,  how do the procedures work? 

A male ophthalmologist preparing a patient in an operating room for laser eye surgery

How Does Laser Eye Surgery Work? 

Laser eye surgery involves using a laser to help improve your vision. There are many types of laser eye surgery, and alternatives and each works differently. 


Completed in 15 minutes or less per eye, LASIK is a relatively quick procedure. At the start of the surgery, you’ll lie on your back, the eye is cleaned and you receive numbing eye drops. Afterwards, your eye surgeon will prop your eyelids open and place a suction ring on the eye. 

With a different laser, your eye surgeon will cut a small flap into the eye before folding it to reach the cornea.  A second programmed laser then reshapes parts of the cornea. After the reshaping is complete, your eye surgeon will lay the cut flap back into place. 

Your eyes may itch, burn, water, or feel gritty after surgery, but these feelings will subside with time. Blurry vision is common but recovers quickly. 


Also completed in 15 minutes or less per eye, SMILE is the newest type of laser eye surgery.  At the start of the surgery, you’ll lie on your back, the eye will be cleaned and you will receive numbing eye drops. Afterwards, your eye surgeon will prop your eyelids open and place a suction ring on the eye. 

A laser creates a small incision into the cornea followed by a precisely cut lenticule from the middle layers (stroma) of the cornea.  Your eye surgeon then gently removes the lenticule through the incision reshaping the cornea.

Your eyes may itch, burn, water, or feel gritty after surgery, but these feelings will subside with time. Blurry vision is common but recovers quickly.


PRK is a quick procedure, taking around 10 minutes or less per eye. Your eye surgeon begins treatment by cleaning the eye, lying you down on your back, numbing the eye with anesthetic drops and propping the eyelids open with an instrument. 

A laser helps your eye surgeon remove the outer layer of your cornea, called the epithelium. You’ll then look at a target light while a laser reshapes your cornea. 

After the laser finishes, your doctor will place a contact lens over the eye to function as a bandage. Your epithelium will gradually grow back over the next 3 to 5 days


ICL surgery takes 15 minutes or less to complete per eye, beginning with cleaning of the eye and the administration of numbing eye drops into your eye. Your eye surgeon will use a lid speculum to hold your eyelids open. 

The procedure begins with a small incision in the eye, and you’ll receive a lubricant to protect the cornea. Your eye surgeon will then insert the new lens through the incision, placing it between the lens and iris. Finally, your eye surgeon removes the protective lubricant before completing the surgery. 

Your eye requires no stitches or sutures to heal, but you’ll have several follow-up appointments where your doctor will assess how your recovery is going. 

Regardless of the surgery you receive, they can all improve your vision. How long do the results of these surgeries last? 

How Long Does Laser Eye Surgery Last? 

Surgery is a significant commitment to make, so how long do the results of these procedures last?  Procedures can’t prevent natural changes to your vision, like presbyopia, but they have long-lasting results: 

  • LASIK, SMILE and PRK are permanent solutions to the refractive error you have at the time of surgery.   It is important prior to laser eye surgery whether LASIK or SMILE or PRK, that your refraction is stable so you can get the longest effect from laser eye surgery.  Many people can enjoy the benefits of laser eye surgery for 20 – 30 years or more.  Natural changes of your eye happen over time which may change your eye’s ability to see close (presbyopia) and refraction as you age.
  • ICL surgery is different from laser eye surgery like LASIK, SMILE and PRK. ICL is reversible to accommodate any refractive changes you may have with time

All laser eye surgeries and ICL can provide you with better vision for years to come, but which should you choose? 

What Laser Eye Surgery Should You Get? 

While LASIK, SMILE, PRK and ICL are all effective surgery options, which is the best choice? 

Each surgery has its benefits and drawbacks, meaning some options are more suited for different people. The best surgery for you is the option your eye surgeon believes will be most effective and safest over time. They can determine this after completing a refractive assessment with you. Contact your eye surgeon today if you’re interested in laser eye surgery or ICL.

Written by Dr. Jamie Bhamra

Dr. Jamie Bhamra is an ophthalmologist with advanced training in cataract and corneal surgery, including refractive surgery, corneal cross-linking, external disease, ocular surface disease, and dry eye disease. He practices comprehensive ophthalmology in Calgary, Alberta.
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