Laser eye surgery and lens surgery
Laser eye surgery and lens surgery are not usually offered on the NHS.
Why laser eye surgery and lens surgery are done
You may have laser eye surgery or lens surgery to:
- correct eyesight problems, such as astigmatism, short-sightedness (myopia) or long-sightedness
- treat eye conditions that can lead to loss of vision, such as diabetic retinopathy, complications after cataract surgery, age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma
There are several different types of laser eye surgery or lens surgery you might be offered. The type that's suitable for you will depend on factors such as your age and your eye health.
When you can get laser eye surgery and lens surgery on the NHS
Laser eye surgery and lens surgery are usually only available privately.
You may be able to get laser eye surgery on the NHS if you have:
- an eye condition that could lead to loss of vision, including blindness
- problems with your sight that cannot be corrected by wearing glasses or contact lenses
What happens during laser eye surgery and lens surgery
Before having laser eye surgery or lens surgery, you should have a consultation with the surgeon about:
- what will happen on the day of your surgery
- what aftercare you can expect
- what to do if there are complications
You'll usually have the surgery in hospital or at an eye clinic. It usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
You'll usually have a local anaesthetic in your eye. This may be eye drops or an injection. For some types of laser surgery, you might need to have a general anaesthetic.
With laser eye surgery the surgeon uses a laser to alter the shape of the outer layer of your eye (cornea). With lens surgery the surgeon will put an artificial lens in your eye.
If you need surgery on both eyes, you'll usually have them both done on the same day. But for some types of lens surgery, it's common to have your eyes done on separate days.
Exactly what will happen will depend on the specific type of laser surgery or lens surgery you're having.
Recovery from laser eye surgery or lens surgery
After having laser eye surgery or lens surgery, you can usually go home on the same day.
There are some things you can do to help with your recovery.
follow the aftercare advice given to you by your doctor or care team
use lubricant eye drops to keep your eye healthy and ease any discomfort
wear non-prescription sunglasses or goggles for a short while after if advised to
do not drive home on the day of your surgery – you'll be advised when you can drive again
do not drive at night until your eyes have recovered
Side effects of laser eye surgery and lens surgery
Most people will have some side effects after laser eye surgery or lens surgery.
Common side effects include:
- light scatter side effects including glare, halos, floaters, starbursts and ghost images
- blurred vision
- sore eyes – the symptoms may be similar to dry eyes
- red blotches on the white of your eye
These problems will normally improve within a few months.
Contact the hospital or clinic where you had the surgery if you have side effects that do not improve.
Complications of laser eye surgery and lens surgery
If you have laser eye surgery or lens surgery, there's a chance you could have complications during the operation or afterwards.
The risks vary between different types of surgery. Your surgeon will explain the risks to you before the procedure.
Complications can include:
- a detached retina
- permanent, serious loss of vision
- needing a second operation – for example laser surgery to fine tune your focus, repositioning the new lens, or replacing the new lens with one of a different size
- under-treatment or over-correction, where the amount of correction in your vision is either more or less than intended
- getting age-related cataracts earlier in life than you might otherwise have done
- posterior capsule opacification (PCO) – this is where part of the lens capsule thickens and causes cloudy vision
Some types of lens implant can be removed if they are causing problems. Your vision and eye health will then be the same as it was before you had the implant.
Urgent advice: Get help from NHS 111 if:
- floaters (dots and lines) suddenly appear in your vision or suddenly increase in number
- you get flashes of light in your vision
- you have a dark "curtain" or shadow moving across your vision
- your vision gets suddenly blurred
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
Find out more
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists website has detailed patient guides about laser eye surgery and lens surgery:
Page last reviewed: 15 February 2024
Next review due: 15 February 2027