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PRK Laser Eye Surgery: A Comprehensive Guide

What is PRK Laser Eye Surgery?

Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is a type of laser eye surgery used to correct common vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. PRK was the first laser eye surgery technique, laying the groundwork for the popular LASIK procedure. In PRK, the surgeon uses a precise laser to remove a thin layer of the cornea’s surface, reshaping it to improve the patient’s vision.

How PRK Laser Surgery Works

During PRK laser surgery, a surgeon uses a laser to reshape the cornea, the clear front part of the eye, to improve how the eye focuses light. The laser removes a thin layer of the cornea to correct the vision. Unlike other laser eye surgery procedures, such as LASIK, PRK does not involve cutting a flap in the cornea.

Am I a Good Candidate for PRK Laser Surgery?

Your eye doctor will evaluate your eyes and medical history to determine if you’re a good candidate for PRK laser surgery. Generally, good candidates for PRK laser surgery are:

  • At least 18 years old

  • Have a stable prescription for at least one year

  • Have healthy eyes

  • Do not have certain medical conditions, such as autoimmune diseases or diabetes

  • Are you not pregnant or nursing

Advantages of PRK Laser Eye Surgery

Faster Healing Process

Although PRK has a longer recovery time than LASIK, the actual healing process of the cornea is faster. This is because PRK only removes the outer outermost layer of the cornea, allowing it to regenerate quickly and reducing the risk of long-term complications.

Ideal for Thin Corneas

PRK is an excellent option for patients with thin corneas who may not be suitable candidates for LASIK. Since PRK doesn’t involve creating a corneal flap, it preserves more corneal tissue, which is especially important for those with thinner corneas.

Reduced Risk of Complications

Because PRK doesn’t create a corneal flap, there’s no risk of flap-related complications such as flap dislocation or wrinkles. This can result in a lower overall risk of complications when PRK is compared to LASIK.

Disadvantages of PRK Laser Eye Surgery

Longer Recovery Time

One of the main disadvantages of PRK is the eye pain and the longer recovery time compared to LASIK. It may take several days to a few weeks for the eye to fully heal and for the patient to experience improved vision.

Initial Discomfort

Following PRK surgery, patients may experience more discomfort during the initial healing phase than with LASIK. This mild discomfort is due to removing the corneal epithelium, which can result in irritation and light sensitivity. With the advent of newer anti-inflammatory drops, post-operative discomfort can usually be completely mitigated


If you’re considering vision correction surgery, you’ve likely come across PRK, LASIK, and SMILE as potential options. These procedures are designed to correct refractive errors and reduce or eliminate the need for glasses or contact lenses. But which one is right for you? This section will delve into the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of PRK, LASIK, and SMILE and help you make an informed decision.

What is PRK?

PRK Procedure

Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is a type of laser eye surgery that reshapes the cornea to correct vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. During the PRK procedure, the outer layer of the cornea called the epithelium, is removed, and an excimer laser is used to reshape the underlying corneal tissue. The epithelium then grows back naturally and gives clear vision within a few days.

PRK Recovery

Recovery from PRK can be more uncomfortable and take longer compared to LASIK and SMILE. Patients usually experience some pain and blurred vision in the first few days, and it can take up to a week for the epithelium to fully regrow. Vision improvement can be noticed within a week, but reaching its best potential may take several weeks.

What is LASIK?

LASIK Procedure

Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is another popular laser eye surgery that corrects refractive errors. In the LASIK procedure, a thin flap is created on the corneal surface using a microkeratome or femtosecond laser. The flap is lifted, and an excimer laser is used to reshape the underlying corneal tissue. Finally, the flap is repositioned, acting as a natural bandage and promoting faster healing.

LASIK Recovery

LASIK recovery is typically faster and more comfortable than PRK. Patients often report minimal discomfort and can usually resume normal activities within a day or two. Vision improvement is rapid, with most patients experiencing significantly better vision within hours of the procedure. However, the vision may take several weeks to stabilize and achieve its best potential fully.

What is SMILE?

SMILE Procedure

Small Incision Lenticule Extraction (SMILE) is a newer, minimally invasive laser eye surgery technique. SMILE is primarily used to treat nearsightedness and astigmatism. During the SMILE procedure, a femtosecond laser creates a small, disc-shaped corneal tissue called a lenticule. This lenticule is then removed through a tiny incision, reshaping the cornea and correcting vision.

SMILE Recovery

SMILE recovery is similar to LASIK in terms of comfort and speed. Patients typically experience minimal discomfort and can resume normal activities within a day or two. Vision improvement with SMILE is usually noticeable within a day, but it may take several weeks for vision to stabilize fully and for the eye to reach its best potential.

Comparing PRK, LASIK, and SMILE


Each of these vision correction procedures offers its unique set of advantages:

  • PRK: Since no flap is created during PRK, there’s no risk of flap-related complications. PRK is also suitable for patients with thin corneas or dry eyes who may not be eligible for LASIK.

  • LASIK: LASIK offers a rapid recovery time and minimal discomfort, making it the most popular vision correction surgery. It’s also highly effective in treating a wide range of refractive errors.

  • SMILE: As the most “minimally” invasive option, SMILE has a reported lower risk of dry eye complications and a smaller chance of corneal weakening; however, the literature does not entirely support this claim. It’s also a great option for those who may not be candidates for LASIK due to corneal thickness or other factors.


There are also some downsides to each procedure:

  • PRK: PRK recovery can be slower and more uncomfortable compared to LASIK and SMILE. It may also take longer to achieve optimal vision results.

  • LASIK: LASIK carries a risk of flap-related complications, such as flap displacement or wrinkling. It may also not be suitable for individuals with thin corneas or certain eye conditions.

  • SMILE: Currently, SMILE is limited in its ability to treat farsightedness and may not be an option for those with more severe refractive errors.

How to Choose the Right Procedure 

Choosing the right vision correction surgery depends on several factors, such as the type and severity of your refractive error, the thickness of your cornea, your overall eye health, and your personal preferences. It’s essential to consult with an experienced eye surgeon who can assess your individual needs and recommend the best refractive surgery and perfect vision procedure for you.

The PRK Procedure

Pre-Operation Consultation

Before the PRK laser surgery, you’ll have a comprehensive eye exam to ensure your eyes are healthy and determine the best approach for your surgery. Your eye doctor may also perform corneal mapping to create a detailed map of your cornea to guide the laser during the procedure.

You may be asked to wear eye makeup and stop wearing contact lenses wear sunglasses for some time before the procedure. You should also arrange for transportation to and from the surgery center, as you cannot drive immediately after the procedure.

The Surgery

PRK surgery is typically performed as an outpatient procedure, with the entire process taking approximately 10-15 minutes per eye. The surgeon will first apply numbing eye drops to ensure the patient’s comfort.

Then, the surgeon will use an alcohol solution or a blunt instrument to remove the cornea’s outer layer (the epithelium). A laser then reshapes the underlying corneal tissue, correcting the patient’s vision. Finally, the surgeon will place a protective contact lens over the eye to make light rays aid in the healing process.

Post-Operation Care

Following the PRK surgery, patients receive post-operative instructions, including antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops. They must wear glasses or the protective contact lens for several days while the corneal epithelium regenerates. Patients should expect some discomfort and light sensitivity during the initial healing phase, but these symptoms usually subside within a few days.

Potential Complications and Risks

PRK laser surgery has potential complications and risks, as with any surgical procedure. These may include:

  • Infection

  • Dry eyes

  • Glare or halos around lights

  • Reduced vision, including night vision

  • Corneal haze or scarring

Discussing these risks with your eye doctor and understanding the potential outcomes of best vision before deciding to undergo PRK laser surgery is important.

The Benefits of PRK Laser Surgery

PRK laser surgery has several benefits overall health front, including:

  • A quick procedure with minimal discomfort

  • A lower risk of complications compared to other procedures, such as LASIK

  • A good option for people with thin corneas or other corneal abnormalities that may make other procedures less suitable

Costs and Insurance Coverage

The cost of PRK surgery can vary depending on factors such as the surgeon’s experience, the geographic location of the surgery center, and the specific technology used during the procedure. Generally, a PRK eye laser surgery can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 per eye. Most insurance plans do not cover PRK as it’s considered an elective procedure; however, some plans may offer partial coverage or discounts for laser eye surgeries. 

We offer convenient financing online through Medicard Financial.


PRK laser eye surgery is an effective option for individuals seeking to correct their vision and reduce their dependence on glasses or contact lenses. Although it has a longer recovery time than LASIK, PRK offers unique advantages, such as suitability for patients with thin corneas and a reduced risk of flap-related complications. By thoroughly discussing your options with an experienced eye surgeon, you can make an informed decision about whether PRK is right for you.

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Q: What is PRK surgery?

A: Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) is a similar procedure to LASIK, usually performed when a patient is not a LASIK candidate due to a thin, steep or irregularly-shaped cornea. PRK reshapes the cornea’s surface instead of creating a corneal flap. Providing similar vision benefits, LASIK is often the preferred procedure simply due to quicker visual recovery and return to activities, as PRK requires a more extensive recovery.

Q: How safe is PRK?

A: Health Canada recognizes laser eye surgery as an effective treatment for refractive vision errors. Studies suggest that long-term minor complications occur at a rate of 3% to 5%. Potential complications include:

  • Dry eyes
  • Halos/glare
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Ectasia – weakening and bulging of the cornea (rare)
  • Infection (0.050-0.033% chance)
  • Over or under treatment (<2% chance)

Any specific risks for individual cases will be discussed in detail at the complimentary consultation. It is important to highlight pre-existing medical conditions and lifestyle choices during this time, as certain conditions/lifestyles may impact risk levels.

Q: Will it hurt?

A: Undergoing the procedure itself is painless; it does not require general anesthetic, just topical anesthetic eye drops. The PRK procedure is painless, but for a few days afterward, discomfort will emerge as each eye’s surface heals. This pain is managed by a soft “bandage” contact lens and pain relief medication.

Q: What will my recovery look like?

A: People can usually return to work within five to seven days following PRK. Patients can typically drive after their post-operative visit, where their vision will be checked and confirmation provided. A week after surgery, makeup may be worn, but to prevent infection, it is advised to wear only new cosmetics.

Q: Is there a difference in the final outcome between LASIK and PRK?

A: The final visual result is the same with LASIK or PRK; however, the healing time is longer with PRK. With PRK the epithelium regenerates, typically after five days, but it takes a while for the epithelium to smooth out in order to see well. With LASIK 99% of patients can drive within 24 hours after having the procedure. With PRK it is advised not to drive until the contact lenses are removed, which is usually in about five days. It may take two to four months after PRK for your best vision to be obtained.

Q: How much does laser eye surgery cost?

A: At the Conlon Eye Institute, PRK is priced at $2200 per eye. Equalized pricing allows for treatment decisions based on the predicted outcomes for best treatment rather than on price differences.

Q: Can I pay in monthly installments?

A: Laser eye surgery is an investment in your vision, and thus, your overall quality of life. At Conlon Eye Institute, we understand that cost may seem prohibitive; however, we can help make your visual goals meet your budget. We offer financing through Medicard, Canada’s Patient Financing Company. Apply here or by brochure in our office. To meet almost every patient’s budget, plans start out at as little as $70 a month. Our trained staff can also work through the process with you. Enquire today.