Preparing for Laser Eye Surgery: Everything you need to know

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8 months ago a friend told me she was considering having laser eye surgery. My initial thought was, “what’s that?”.

In case you have the same question as I did, Laser eye surgery is a type of refractive surgery that uses a laser to reshape the surface of the eye.

They do WHAT to your eyes!?

My biggest concern about eye surgery was having someone cut open my eyes. On top of this, was the thought of being awake whilst they were doing this.

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 the operation gave me the chills and not something I would ever want to put myself through. Or so I thought…

Before I had laser eye surgery

Before I had laser eye surgery

The turning point

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. A bit of research wasn’t going to kill 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.

Laser eye surgery in Korea?

Little did I know that Seoul is the plastic surgery capital of the world with medical tourism being a thriving industry in Korea. The doctors are highly qualified and the advanced technology is state of the art.

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. The streets of Gangnam are filled with men and women with slightly bruised faces, covered in bandages as they leave one of the many clinics. There’s absolutely no shame and Koreans are very happy to show off their new and improved looks.

This immediately put my nerves at ease, but I had additional pressure. IF I wanted to have laser eye surgery, the best place to do it was in Korea… and the only time I’d be able to do it was in 5 weeks time due to school holidays.

With little time to process what I was committing to, I had already decided that I would have the surgery.

the most advanced technology for laser eye surgery

Korea is said to have the newest and most advanced laser technology in the world

LASEK vs LASIK vs PRK

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 and LASIK are the most popular, with LASEK being an improvement on PRK.

  • LASIK Eye Surgery

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.

Recovery time for LASIK is far quicker and less painful than LASEK. The day after your procedure, you will need to return to the clinic for a check-up and you should be able to see clearly within one or two days.

LASIK is viewed as slightly more riskier than LASEK, with a greater chance of visual regression. People with thin corneas cannot have LASIK eye surgery and it is also not recommended for active people.

  • LASEK Eye Surgery

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.

This 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.

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 2 being extremely painful. Having now had the surgery, my personal experience was far more intense than I thought it would be. Sensitivity to light is also expected and it can take a few months before full visual recovery.

  • PRK

PRK Stands for photorefractive keratectomy. It is very similar to LASEK in that the epithelial layer is removed and 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.

EyeMedi Lasik Center Gangnam

EyeMedi Lasik Center Gangnam

Cost of laser eye surgery in Korea

The price for both LASEK and LASIK surgery in Korea varies between 1.4-2.2 million won ($1 400-$2 200) for the entire procedure as well as all post-operation checkups. There are many foreigner discounts and referral incentives, so be sure to ask. Yes, I travel on a tight budget but these are my precious eyes and so I wasn’t about trying to get a bargain.

I was shocked to find out that in the United States, the exact same procedure costs about $2 000 per eye, more than double that of Korea. The costs for the operation back home in South Africa is more or less the same as in Korea but I was sold on having the procedure in Korea.

Where to have Laser Eye Surgery In Korea?

My biggest concern was finding an eye clinic with highly qualified specialists who made use of 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, EyeMediDream Eye Centre Gangnam, and BGN are the most popular clinics and all come with outstanding reviews.

Consultation and eye testing

Scared as hell, but confident in the research I’d done, I booked my consultation at EyeMedi. They seemed to be a smaller clinic, which provided that extra personal touch. I’d also read many great blogs about their patients’ success stories. Their Facebook page is also filled with images and great reviews and I was able to make my booking easily over a Facebook message.

During this consultation, my eyes would be put through numerous tests to see if I was a good candidate for the 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 are not 100% confident in the feedback you receive, go for a second opinion.

This consultation at EyeMedi costs 30 000 won ($30) but is included in the cost of having the operation. Contact lenses must not be worn for 7 days prior to this consultation as they change the shape of your cornea.

Laser eye surgery consultation

Dr. Lee explaining the results from my tests

Arriving for my consultation

On the day of my consultation, I was greeted by Mr. Choo who took me through a comprehensive eye exam which lasted 1.5 hours. Throughout this process, he explained every step and the purpose of each test. Mr Choo patiently answered all of my questions and I felt confident in his expertise. These tests were not like any eye tests I’d done before. They were far more detailed and involved many different testing devices.

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 the nerves and adrenalin 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.

laser eye surgery consultation

Dr Lee doing some final tests

Feedback from the exam

Next, 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. Both my eyes were -4.15, with astigmatism in my right eye. He explained that I was a perfect candidate for LASEK and I scheduled the surgery for 2 weeks later.

All that was left was the actual operation

My LASEK operation was due on Saturday the 22 of September and I’d have 10 days to recover over the Chuseok break. Read about my experience of getting LASEK in Korea and how the procedure went. All I can say is that the pain was worth it! It’s been 2 months since I had the surgery my eyes are better than perfect!

Are you looking at having laser eye surgery? Do you have any questions regarding Lasek? Drop me a message and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

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