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Understanding PRK: Is It Right for You?
PRK or photoreactive kerectomy is a surgical procedure that was the precursor for the surgery known as Lasik. The biggest difference between the two procedures is how the first portion of the operation is conducted. Additional variability between the two procedures includes recovery, risk factors, and the patient’s overall needs. Understanding these differences can help you decide if PRK is an appropriate solution for your vision issues.
PRK utilizes a laser to correct farsightedness (hyperopia), nearsightedness (myopia), and astigmatism. During a PRK operation, a laser is used to remove the exterior epithelial cells from the cornea. This procedure uses an excimer laser to remove the cells which are then discarded. A contact “bandage” is placed over the eye, and the cells can heal over the course of a few days. Your doctor will then remove the contact lens when the eye has healed enough to be exposed.
While the results are like that of Lasik, PRK does take some additional healing time. This is due to the time that must be allowed for the epithelial cells to heal and regrow on the eye. Additionally, Lasik patients generally experience less discomfort and faster results. PRK results can take a few weeks to fully materialize.
This isn’t to say that PRK doesn’t have its own benefits too. This procedure is well-suited for patients that have had previous eye surgeries and may have thin corneas. Because PRK does not make an incision into the cornea and only removes the epithelial cells, it leaves more of the stromal tissues which underly the epithelial tissue. PRK does not run the risk of “flap” issues that can arise from Lasik, and the risk of removing too much of the cornea is reduced. However, if you are considering PRK, you should consult with your medical professional to identify the right procedure for your specific case.
When you meet with your eye specialist to discuss your options, there are several factors that they will consider. Your potential surgeon should conduct a thorough eye exam during which they will measure your eye moistness, pupil size, corneal thickness, and corneal curvature. Your doctor should also review your medical and family history to identify any possible concerns about your suitability. Make sure that you bring a list of your medications and previous operations. Finally, you may be required to stop wearing contact lenses for a period before the operation. This can allow your cornea to return to its natural shape before the operation.
The actual PRK surgery is a short procedure that will only take about 15 minutes. The patient will not be sedated during the operation but may be given an oral sedative that helps to relax the eye. Numbing drops are applied to your eyes and a small speculum is also used to hold the eyelids open for the procedure. The excimer laser is programmed for your exact eye prescription. Patients are instructed to look at a certain object or target while the laser is operating. The surgeon will watch the procedure through a microscope and can stop the procedure at any time. Most patients do not report discomfort, although there may be some pressure.
You will be observed for a short time after your operation to make sure that you don’t have any severe immediate reactions. After this observation, you will be sent home. It is important to have someone else drive you after any procedure that may impact your vision or ability to drive safely. You should make sure to follow all of the doctor’s recommendations to facilitate a speedy recovery. You should also expect several follow up appointments to make sure that the operation was successful and that there are no additional concerns.
Your full results may take several weeks, but almost all patients have vision that is 20/40 or better. Over time, as the eye ages, vision may naturally degrade. At this time, you should consult with your medical professional to see if an additional operation is a good option for you.