The idea of having laser eye surgery in Korea (otherwise known as Lasik or Lasek eye surgery) had never crossed my mind. I had worn glasses for as long as I can remember, and was as dependent on them as a child is on their mother.
Contact lenses were my saving grace and I didn’t think a permanent fix was ever possible.
But here I am today, two years after I first wrote this post. I have perfect vision, I don’t wear contact lenses, and I threw my glasses away the moment I walked out of the operating theatre.
The reason? I had laser eye surgery in Korea!
If you had the chance to do something that would change your life, would you? Or would you let fear get in the way?
In this post, I’ll take you through every step of my laser eye surgery journey, from deciding between Lasek or Lasik, the costs involved, where to go and what to expect from your initial consultation. I’ve also detailed the actual procedure and why my recovery was so painful. It’s a long post – but it’s the only one you need if you’re planning on having laser eye surgery in Seoul, Korea.
Disclaimer: This post details my personal experience with lasek in Korea. I’m by no means a doctor and whilst my eye surgery was a success, there are risks involved. Be sure to consult a qualified physician before going ahead with any surgery.
What is Lasik or Laser Eye Surgery
Laser eye surgery is a type of refractive surgery that uses a laser to reshape the surface of the eye. It’s a quick 15-minute operation but you’re awake during the whole thing!
I’d heard of laser eye surgery previously, but I never considered actually doing it. I had my reservations about people messing with my eyes, especially if I was awake throughout the procedure.
What if I blink? Will I pass out? Is there a chance that the numbing eye drops won’t work and I could feel everything?
The thought of having lasik in Korea gave me chills and it wasn’t something I would ever put myself through. Or so I thought…
Why I had Laser Eye Surgery in South Korea
Whilst complaining about my contact lenses and the pain of never being able to find my glasses in my near-blind state, I decided to read up on laser eye surgery in Korea since it was so common in the country.
A bit of research wasn’t going to hurt anyone, right? I was adamant that I would never go ahead with the operation.
However, my perception of laser eye surgery quickly changed as I began to read how the procedure was virtually full-proof, with no pain during the 15-minute operation.
Why Lasik in Korea
I’m an adventure gal! I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, been scuba diving in Indonesia, and I enjoy spending my winters skiing in Korea.
The one thing that affected every one of these experiences was having to wear glasses and contact lenses.
I’d had enough!
The tipping point for my decision to have Lasek in Korea was the quality of doctors and advanced technology.
Little did I know that Seoul is the plastic surgery capital of the world with medical tourism being a thriving industry in Korea.
Laser eye surgery is a common procedure here and the doctors perform both Lasik and Lasek eye surgery daily.
According to Dream Eye Centre in Seoul, their surgeons have performed the surgery over 30 000 times compared to specialists in the United States who have about 500 cases each.
As a result, their experience is unmatched. This immediately put my nerves at ease. Rated as the best in the world, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to have the life-changing surgery.
With little time to process what I was committing to, I had already decided that I would have Lasik in Korea.
LASEK vs LASIK vs PRK: What’s The Difference
There are several types of refractive eye surgeries available and it’s best to educate yourself to ensure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
When having any form of medical procedure, most of us don’t fully understand the medical jargon getting thrown around.
The specialist will show scans and talk you through the data and results. If you’re like me, you’ll just nod and agree with what the experts are saying.
Trusting your doctor is very important but you should also have a clear understanding of the procedures available when deciding which one to go for.
Lasek (otherwise known as “EK”) and Lasik (“IK”) are the most popular corrective eye surgeries in Korea, and the world.
LASIK Eye Surgery: “IK”
LASIK stands for Laser-Assisted In-situ Keratomileusis.
This involves creating a flap by cutting a thin layer of tissue off your cornea and folding it back.
The cornea is then reshaped using a laser and thereafter, the flap is returned to its original place.
One of the biggest pros of Lasik eye surgery is the recovery time. Your eyes heal a lot quicker and the entire recovery process is less painful than Lasek.
The day after your Lasik procedure, you’ll need to return to the clinic for a check-up and you should be able to see clearly within one or two days.
If you have a thin cornea, you cannot have Lasik eye surgery and it’s also not recommended for active people.
I’ve also heard that with Lasik, there’s a greater chance of visual regression. These were the 3 reasons why I chose to have Lasek in Korea instead of Lasik.
LASEK Eye Surgery: “EK”
Lasek stands for Laser-Assisted Subepithelial Keratomileusis.
A thin surface layer of the cornea is loosened using an alcohol solution rather than a surgical blade.
It is then moved to the side and the cornea is reshaped with a laser. This epithelial layer is then moved back and left to heal.
Lasek differs from Lasik as no flap is created.
Lasek is the safer option of the two and is recommended for people who have thin corneas and dry eyes.
If you take part in physical or high impact sports you are also advised to have Lasek eye surgery.
On the downside, recovery for Lasek is far worse than Lasik as you have to allow time for your upper epithelium layer to recover.
This can take up to 7 days, with the first 3 being extremely painful.
Having now had Lasek in Seoul, my personal experience was far more intense than I thought it would be – but I’ll get to all of that further in the post. Sensitivity to light is also expected and it can take a few months before full visual recovery.
PRK Stands for photorefractive keratectomy.
It’s very similar to Lasek as no flap is created. It differs from Lasek in that the epithelial layer is completely removed and has to grow back to the previous position.
PRK is not as popular and has been replaced with Lasek.
Costs for Lasek or Lasik in South Korea
The costs for laser eye surgery in Korea vary and depend on the condition of your eyes and the clinics you go to.
Eye clinics in Seoul that have English-speaking surgeons tend to be a bit more expensive than those in rural areas.
Expect to pay between 1.4 and 2.2 million KRW ($1 200-$1 900) for both Lasek and Lasik surgery in Korea. This includes your initial consultation, the operation as well as all check-ups.
Both of my eyes were -4.15 and I had quite a bad astigmatism in my right eye. I paid 1.7 million KRW (October 2017) for Lasek at Eyemedi Lasik Center in Seoul.
This was the cost after a 20% foreigner discount. However, all medication is additional and costs roughly 100 000 KRW ($85) for the first two months of eye drops and painkillers.
Some eye doctors in Korea will cover your accommodation costs if you don’t live in Seoul, whilst others offer referral incentives, so be sure to ask.
However, EyeMedi offer neither which wasn’t an issue for me. These are my precious eyes and so I wasn’t about trying to get a bargain.
Where to Have Lasek or Lasik in South Korea
My biggest concern about having Lasek in Korea was finding an eye clinic with highly qualified specialists who could speak English.
I also wanted to make sure that they had the most advanced technology and eye testing equipment. I was leaving nothing to chance.
In my search to find the best clinic to have laser eye surgery, I must have read every single blog once, if not twice, on the topic.
The “Expat women in Korea” Facebook group is also fantastic and has many comments and referrals for the operation.
We’re spoilt for choice in Korea, with hundreds of eye clinics specializing in Lasik for foreigners.
From my research, EyeMedi Lasik Center, Glory Eye Seoul, Dream Eye Centre Gangnam, and BGN are the most popular clinics and all come with outstanding reviews.
I decided to keep my options open and explore various eye clinics before booking the surgery. If I was comfortable with the doctors and felt confident that I was in good hands, I’d go ahead with the operation.
Scared as hell, but confident in the research I’d done, I booked my first consultation at EyeMedi Lasik Center in Gangnam, Seoul. They seemed to be a smaller clinic, which provided that extra personal touch.
Consultation for Lasik Surgery in Korea
This initial consultation takes about 1.5 hours, possibly longer. Contact lenses must not be worn for 7 days prior to this consultation as they change the shape of your cornea.
This consultation at EyeMedi costs 30 000 KRW ($25) but is included in the cost of having the operation.
The importance of these eye tests
During the consultation, my eyes were put through numerous tests to see if I was a good candidate for either Lasik or Lasek eye surgery.
The consultation is an extremely important step of the process as the specialist will highlight problem areas and possible risks that could arise.
Listen to their advice and if you’re not 100% confident in the feedback you receive (or if they rush the tests), go for a second opinion.
What does the initial lasek consultation involve
On the day of my consultation, I was greeted by Mr. Choo from EyeMedi who took me through a comprehensive eye exam that lasted 1.5 hours.
Throughout this process, he explained every step and the purpose of each test.
These tests were not like any eye tests I’d done before. They were far more detailed and involved many different testing devices.
Mr Choo patiently answered all of my questions and I felt confident in his expertise.
During the eye exam, I got to a point where I felt light-headed as if I was going to faint.
This was not because of the actual exam, but I struggle with people touching my eyes and have a mild case of claustrophobia – I’m actually just a scaredy-cat as Mr. Choo appropriately put it!
Perhaps it was just nerves and adrenaline from all the excitement. Mr. Choo kindly sat me down until I was feeling strong again and then continued with the tests.
At this point, he highlighted that he would need to draw blood before the surgery. The blood platelets are used in recovery eye drops called PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma).
This formula speeds up the recovery process and helps with healing.
Suddenly I became more nervous about having my blood taken than going ahead with actual surgery. However, Mr. Choo agreed to use artificial blood platelets and so I could skip this step… phew!!
Lastly, I was given eye drops which dilated my pupils in order for the specialist to thoroughly examine the interior of my eye.
This leads to everything being extremely bright, so trying to find my way back home from the train and bus station was a bit challenging, but doable.
Make sure you have a good pair of sunglasses on you and don’t plan any activities for the rest of the day.
Getting the go-ahead for Lasek eye surgery in Korea
Finally, I met with Dr. Lee, the ophthalmologist who would perform the operation.
I felt extremely comfortable and confident in his capabilities as he was very kind, knowledgeable, and spoke great English so I could discuss the entire procedure with him.
He had all the results from the eye tests I’d just done. Both my eyes were -4.15, with astigmatism in my right eye.
He explained that I was a perfect candidate for Lasek, and recommended that I have Lasek instead of Lasik for the reasons I mentioned above.
Walking into Eyemedi, I did not think I’d have the courage to get the operation. But I was so impressed with them overall, that I left having booked the surgery for later that month!
No matter where you decided to have lasik in Korea, make sure you feel comfortable with your doctor.
Getting Lasek Eye Surgery in Korea: The Operation
The day had finally arrived! I had to wear my glasses for 7 days prior to the surgery as contact lenses change the shape of your cornea.
On the day of my lasik eye surgery my heart was racing and I was a nervous wreck. I felt as if I was going to have an emotional breakdown in the middle of Seoul Express Bus Terminal!
Arriving at EyeMedi
I arrived at EyeMedi Gangnam and met Mr. Choo who took me through a few more eye tests to ensure that there were no changes from the initial consultation.
Whilst waiting and getting all my admin sorted, I was given countless amounts of eye drops by the EyeMedi staff.
I also had to sign a consent form to say that the clinic cannot be held liable for any negative side effects or results from the surgery.
At this point, they would usually take you into a room and draw your blood. The blood platelets are used for a recovery serum called PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma).
This formula speeds up the recovery process and helps with healing.
However, during my initial consultation, I explained that I would most likely pass out if my blood was drawn!
Mr. Choo agreed to use artificial blood platelets and so I could skip this step (but perhaps that’s why my recovery process was so painful – keep reading!)
I was then given the prescription for my medication and guided to the pharmacy downstairs.
Preparing for the surgery
After returning, I was taken to the surgical department.
Here, I donned a surgical gown and sat anxiously as the medical staff cleaned my eyes.
After 20 minutes I was escorted to the operating theater, and lay on the operation bed, anxiously waiting for Dr. Lee to arrive.
I could hear his voice from a mile away and that familiar sound put my racing heart at ease.
Again, I emphasized how scared and nervous I was, and he smiled and reassured me that I would be fine.
During my lasek eye operation
Days leading up to my surgery I had done so much research, perhaps too much, that I knew exactly what was happening and what would happen next.
First, a speculum was inserted around my eye to keep it open. Even if you try to blink, you can’t (phew).
The doctor started with my right eye and applied numbing anesthetic eye drops to it. I was eagerly awaiting these, hoping and praying that they were strong and effective.
He fiddled around in my eye for a few minutes and I could feel a cooling sensation but I didn’t quite know what he was doing
Ready for the laser
Finally, he told me to look straight into the laser – but the laser was red and blurry, not green like I had researched it should be.
I panicked, but Dr. Lee told me to stay calm and that it was going to go green for about 20 seconds, which it did.
I nervously waited for that “burning hair smell” as I’d read is to be expected when the laser is reshaping your cornea. To my relief, I didn’t notice or smell this at all.
Lastly, he inserted a protective contact lens in my eye that needs to be removed 5-7 days after the surgery.
The right eye was done, one more to go.
15 minutes after I entered the operating theater, the procedure was complete. I was relieved!
No, it wasn’t painful. However, I could see what they were doing, I knew what was coming next and I could hear the instruments.
I was anxious throughout the procedure, holding tightly to the bed and was relieved when it was finally over.
After the surgery
Immediately after the surgery, I was good to go and left with a spring in my step knowing I would soon have great eyes.
After I left EyeMedi, I could see clearly and had none of the side effects that I had read about.
I had to take a 2-hour bus trip home to Cheonan and this is when the anesthetic started wearing off and the happiness I felt after leaving EyeMedi seemed like a distant memory.
Lasek/Lasik in Korea Recovery Time
The recovery time for Lasik is 2 days, whilst for Lasek, it’s 7.
As is expected with any form of surgery, there is pain during the healing process.
If you choose to have Lasik in Korea (instead of Lasek), you won’t have to go through nearly as much pain as those who opted for Lasek.
This recovery process can range from slight discomfort to severe torture. I guess I was one of the unlucky ones who experienced the worst of the worst!
However, it’s a small price to pay for the perfect eyes I have today.
How bad could it be
Just a side note, after you’ve read my Lasek recovery process below, you may be put off from having the surgery. But I assure you, it’s the best thing I’ve even done!
It’s been a few years since my Lasek operation and my eyes are perfect.
Most people I’ve spoken to say that their Lasek recovery wasn’t nearly as bad as mine. This is the worst it could be, and if I can get through it, so can you!
Medication for Lasek
I was given the below medication and eye drops that had to be taken religiously.
- Antibiotic eye drops: 4 times a day
- Anti-inflammatory eye drops: 4 times a day
- Emergency eye drops: Use for severe pain
- PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma): 4 times a day
- Artificial tears: Every 30 min
- Eye ointment: to be used after the protective lens is removed
- Painkillers: 4 different kinds of painkillers to be taken 3 times a day
Lasek recovery: The aftermath
Day 1 recovery
During the first night after having Lasek eye surgery in Korea, I experienced no pain but my eyes were sensitive to light.
I couldn’t use my phone or computer and so I took the painkillers and went straight to bed.
READ MORE: ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR MOVING TO SOUTH KOREA
Day 2 recovery
The next morning I could barely open my eyes because the natural light in my room was too bright.
Yes, I’d read that your eyes become sensitive to light, but I did not realize that it would be to this extreme.
I immediately cried for sunglasses and lay helplessly under my blankets listening to audiobooks for the next few hours.
In the meantime, my boyfriend tried to find boxes, towels and cardboard paper to cover the frosted windows. I made sure he covered every single gap with not one, but two layers!
Yes, it was that bad.
I had slight scratchiness in my right eye but this is to be expected.
When I was able to open my eyes, I could see clearly and this kept me positive.
Towards the end of day 2, I started experiencing severe pain in both eyes.
It felt as if someone was stabbing them with sharp knives that had been drenched in onion juice. And no, that’s not an over-exaggeration!
Thinking this was as bad as it could get, I used the emergency eye drops. The pain subsided for about 30 minutes but then it started all over again.
I took my medication and tried to sleep, but it was an extremely uncomfortable night.
I woke up screaming with pain continuously and somehow managed to get a few hours rest.
Day 3 Recovery
Day 3 was by far the worst of my Lasek recovery. I cannot explain the pain I felt in my eyes, but it was excruciating.
To top it off, my emergency eye drops had run out. I took a few extra-strong painkillers and sleeping pills that I happened to have lying around the house.
Again, I spent most of the day hiding under the blankets looking super stylish in my sunglasses and hat.
For those first 3 days, I was completely helpless. My apartment was pitch dark and I couldn’t cook or even make myself tea as I was in so much pain.
No TV, no phone, no light! I wasn’t even allowed to shower or wash my face for 2 days after surgery.
I just lay in bed wishing the pain away and feeling very sorry for myself.
Day 4 and 5 Recovery
At this stage of recovery, most people start feeling better and brave the outdoors.
I, however, was still feeling rather fragile and sore. The pain had subsided slightly but my eyes were still extremely sensitive to light.
I continued to wallow in my bed and listen to my audiobook.
My sight was good and I was looking forward to testing out my new eyes.
Day 6 and 7 Recovery
After 6 days, the pain had finally come to an end and I was finally able to leave my apartment.
I decided to take a stroll to the grocery store and went out for lunch the next day. I could see!
I continued to wear sunglasses and a big hat indoors as everything was still very bright.
Day 8, 9 and 10 Recovery
I returned to EyeMedi Gangnam where a few tests were done on my eyes and the protective lenses were removed.
Dr. Lee was happy with my progress but he warned me that after removal of the protective lenses I may feel pain for the next day or two.
There is also a slight chance (1 in 20) that the epithelial layer may detach and so I was warned to be extra careful with my eyes.
To my relief, I experienced no pain during these 3 days.
I tried watching TV but dimmed the brightness on my screen and still wore sunglasses.
My sight was clear and fluctuated occasionally which is to be expected for the first month or two.
Day 11 Recovery: Return to work
I was teaching English in Korea and had chosen to have Lasek surgery during Chuseok so that I had more time to recover.
The first week back at work was manageable.
After 9 hours in a room which has the brightest of white lights, I was pretty impressed that I had survived the day. I wouldn’t have been able to cope if I went back any sooner!
I could see clearly and it was so weird going to bed and not having to take out my contact lenses.
Happily Ever After: Why I’m so Happy I had Lasek Eye Surgery in Korea
It’s been 6 months since my surgery (now 2 years) and I have been for numerous checkups at EyeMedi since I had Lasek.
I now have 20/13 vision! Yes, that is possible and it’s better than perfect.
My eyes were slightly dry for the first few months, which is to be expected. I experienced no other side effects (some people have blurry vision) and it was so worth the pain and torture I went through to get to this point.
Don’t let the Lasek recovery time scare you from making the best decision of your life. Not having to wear contact lenses and glasses has been a dream come true!
Tips for getting Lasek or Lasik Eye Surgery in South Korea
- Cover all windows in your apartment before you go in for the surgery. Your room should be completely blacked out!
- Download audiobooks and podcasts.
- If you’re living alone, pre-cook meals so that you can just heat them up. Trust me, you’re not going to want to cook!
- Try to get someone to check up on you for the first 3 days and help with preparing food and making you tea.
- Make sure you take enough time off from work. I had 9 days, others say 7 is enough. For Lasik you only need 2 or 3 days recovery, but with Lasek you need a lot more.
- For Lasek, you will need to return to your ophthalmologist 6-8 days after the surgery so that they can remove the protective lens and do further tests to see how your eyes are doing.
- For Lasik, you need to go for a check-up the day after your surgery.
- For both Lasik and Lasek, you should go for another check-up about a month or two after your surgery.
- If you’re traveling to Korea for laser eye surgery, you can also have the surgery the same day as you have the initial consultation.
Where To Have Lasek or Lasik in Korea?
There is plenty of information on the web regarding Lasik or Lasek clinics in Korea that cater to foreigners.
However, the moment I met Mr. Choo and Dr. Lee from EyeMedi Gangnam in Seoul, I knew that this was the right place to have the procedure.
I feel that they went above and beyond to ensure that I had a successful experience. But most of all, the results speak for themselves and I believe this is due to their attention to detail and superior expertise.
How to get to EyeMedi Gangnam in Seoul
EyeMedi is located in Gangnam, Seoul. Go out of exit 11 at Gangnam Station and turn to your right.
The building is on the corner, above Hollys Coffee. EyeMedi have recently moved to the 3rd floor.
You can contact Mr. Choo on their Facebook page and he will give you all the information you need.
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Would I Recommend Getting Lasek Eye Surgery in Korea? YES!
This entire journey has been surreal.
Yes, I was fortunate enough to be able to afford the surgery, but just having glasses is a privilege on its own.
There are millions of people in the world in less developed countries who have worse eyes than I do, yet they do not have access to good eye care.
Never take anything for granted – good eyesight, just like good health, is a blessing and something to be grateful for every day.
Are you thinking of having Lasek in Korea? Got any questions or concerns? Drop me a message in the comments section below!
Looking for more Korea travel information? Check out my other posts!
- 29 Things I Wish I knew About Backpacking South Korea
- Nami Island Itinerary (And Garden of Morning Calm)
- The Best Things To Do in Jeju Island: 5 Day Jeju Itinerary
- Why Naksan Beach is Korea’s Perfect Beach Getaway
- Boryeong Mud Festival: 10 Things You Need To Know
- Why Gangchon Rail Bike Is A Must Do
- The Ultimate Guide To Conquering The Bukhansan Hike in Seoul