Laser (Refractive) Eye Surgery: Frequently Asked Questions

Laser vision correction or refractive surgery at UW Health in Madison provides an alternative to using glasses and contacts for vision correction.
How does laser (refractive) eye surgery correct vision?
Laser vision correction uses an excimer laser to treat nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. One laser pulse removes 1/4,000 millimeter of tissue, an amount so small it would take 200 pulses of the laser to etch through a human hair. Controlled by a computer, the laser is an extremely accurate tool that your doctor can use to reshape your cornea. The results of your eye exam are entered into the computer, which calculates the precise depth and pattern of tissue to be removed. Because the laser does not generate heat, surrounding tissue is unharmed.
Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) uses the excimer laser to shave ultra thin layers of tissue from the cornea. During PRK treatment the surface layer of the cornea (epithelium) is removed by gentle scraping followed by application of the excimer laser.  A bandage contact lens is placed on the eye to aid healing after the laser treatment is completed.
LASIK combines the use of a special instrument known as a microkeratome to create a "flap" of corneal tissue. The laser is then used, similar to PRK, to treat your nearsightedness, farsightedness, and/or astigmatism under this flap. After the laser treatment is performed, the corneal flap is then replaced and acts like a natural bandage contact lens.
IntraLASIK uses a laser that delivers a near infrared beam of light to create a flap from below the surface of the cornea, replacing the hand-held microkeratome blade with computer guided laser precision.
Custom LASIK is performed after measuring a wavefront map of the patient's eye.  A customized laser treatment is then designed that treats not only the eyeglass prescription but also higher-order optical imperfections that can lead to visual distortions that affect the quality of your vision.
How do PRK and LASIK differ?
PRK offers patients an excellent option to achieve their desired vision correction but recovery of vision is delayed until the surface layer of the cornea heals.  Your doctor may recommend separating the treatment of each eye by one week. LASIK involves less initial discomfort and allows patients to see better sooner after surgery. Both PRK and LASIK produce about the same final visual result. IntraLASIK allows for construction of a thinner, more precise corneal flap and may produce more precise refractive surgery outcomes.
Who is a potential candidate for laser (refractive) eye surgery?
People considering refractive surgery should be at least 18 years old, have a record of stable eye exams for at least 18 months, have no corneal disease, and have otherwise healthy eyes.
Most patients with low or moderate degrees of nearsightedness will have near normal uncorrected vision after surgery. Those with higher degrees of nearsightedness may be better suited for IntraLASIK.
What happens during the laser (refractive) eye surgery procedure?
Patients are awake and comfortable during the laser procedure. You may be given a sedative for relaxation. Your physician will administer anesthetic drops to numb your eye and your eyelids are kept open with a small instrument to prevent blinking. The entire procedure usually takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Your surgical visit on the day of your procedure will probably last less than one hour.
What about recovery?
You will receive eye drops to aid the healing of your eye to start at home on the day of your procedure. You may leave the laser center shortly after your surgery, and you will need a friend or family member available to drive you home. We recommend rest for the remainder of the day. You will wear eye shields or goggles to protect your eyes until you are seen by your doctor the following day. Have a pair of sunglasses handy - your eye may be sensitive to bright sunlight as it heals. You should also refrain from swimming for four weeks and wear protective eyewear when playing active sports.
Are there any side effects with laser (refractive) eye surgery?
As with any type of surgery, complications are possible. Fortunately, with refractive surgery, serious or long-term side effects are rare. The most common are:
  • Light sensitivity (1-2 months)
  • Glare at night, for example, from oncoming headlights (variable length)
  • Dry eyes requiring use of artificial tears for one to three months
Why should I choose UW Health Laser Vision Correction?
UW Health Eye Clinics are national leaders in eye care. As an academic medical center, UW Health Eye Clinics puts a strong emphasis on education for both patients and practicing eye care professionals. Seminars are held regularly and patients benefit from a thorough explanation of the procedure from staff and physicians prior to surgery.

University of Wisconsin ophthalmologists offer a variety of choices for laser vision correction – PRK, custom LASIK, and now IntraLASIK – the first blade-free laser technology that enables our physicians to customize your vision correction to your eyes.
UW refractive surgeons use the latest technology to provide laser vision correction for their patients:
  • The VISX S4 Excimer Laser has the most up to date features such as active eye tracking and iris registration to provide the safest, most precise means of delivering a custom treatment to your eyes.
  • The VISX S4 Laser System recently received FDA approval for custom treatment of high myopia providing the highest range of treatment available in the U.S. market.
  • The Intralase Femtosecond Laser is used to perform the critical first step of the LASIK procedure; creating the corneal flap. UW refractive surgeons are among the first in the area to provide this all laser surgical technique for performing LASIK surgery.

How can I tell whether laser (refractive) eye surgery is right for me?

University of Wisconsin refractive surgeons will discuss the best laser vision correction option customized to your eyes and answer all your questions when you schedule a no-charge screening to determine your candidacy for the procedure. A complete eye exam will be necessary prior to surgery. 

For more information or to schedule an eye exam, call (608) 265-2020.
Where is UW laser (refractive) eye surgery performed?
Laser surgical procedures are performed at the TLC Wisconsin Laser Center of Madison and NovaMed Surgery Center of Madison. Preoperative and postoperative care is provided at UW Health Eye Clinics.
Can I continue to see my own eye doctor?
UW Health eye surgeons work cooperatively with eye doctors to provide the full range of refractive surgery services. Your family eye doctor typically provides your preoperative care including your initial eye exam. The surgical planning and the surgery itself are then performed by UW Health refractive surgeons at either the TLC Laser Eye Center or NovaMed Surgery Center. Following the procedure, your follow-up care may then be provided by your family eye doctor.


Preoperative and follow-up care can also be provided by UW Health eye doctors.

How much does laser (refractive) eye surgery cost?
Fees for preoperative and postoperative care charged by your family eye doctor are separate from those fees charged for the procedure by the UW and may vary. Please consult with your eye doctor prior to your surgery to understand these costs.
For a current listing of UW Health procedure fees, please call (608) 265-2020.