The Link Between LASIK Eye Surgery & Dry Eyes

person receiving LASIK surgery Every year, more than a million people get LASIK eye surgery to correct their vision. Of those, about eight in 10 LASIK patients will experience dry eyes following the procedure.

Dry eyes is a condition that causes the eyes to itch, burn and produce excessive tearing. It is a common side effect of LASIK and may persist for a few days or weeks following surgery.

Does LASIK Cause Dry Eyes?

Dry eyes are a common yet temporary result of LASIK surgery. During LASIK, the surface of the eye is penetrated and corneal nerve sensitivity can be reduced. The severity of myopia determines how deep the laser must go to reshape the eye. The deeper the laser must go to remove corneal tissue, the greater the chances that corneal nerve sensitivity will be compromised. When the eye fails to sense a need for moisture and lubrication, it does not produce adequate tears and dry eyes result.

However, LASIK is not the sole cause of dry eyes. Many people who have not had LASIK may experience dry eyes due to one or a number of other factors. Some of the other potential causes of dry eyes exclusive of LASIK include:

  • Older age
  • Females who have experienced menopause
  • Taking allergy medication
  • Taking blood pressure medication
  • Taking antidepressants
  • Some autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Living in a dry climate

In rare cases, dry eyes prior to surgery may be determined too severe for the patient to be considered a good candidate for LASIK. If you have dry eyes and are considering LASIK, your eye doctor will consider both the severity of your dry eyes and how effective pre-surgery treatment might be before recommending LASIK.

What is the Treatment for Dry Eyes?

Most eye surgeons recommend the use of lubricating eye drops to help the eyes maintain moisture following surgery. Some LASIK patients will be given prescription eye drops. If your eyes are considered to be dry before surgery, your surgeon may recommend the use of eye drops prior to the procedure.

In cases of pre-existing severe dry eyes, PRK or other alternative vision correction procedures may be recommended to reduce the risk of dry eyes.

During your pre-surgery screening, your doctor will conduct a variety of tests to detect dry eyes as the condition may affect the outcome of LASIK eye surgery since the quality and quantity of tears your eyes produce can affect healing time. During pre-surgery screening, your doctor may also be able to detect other conditions causing your dry eyes.

Does LASIK Cause Chronic Dry Eyes?

Though symptoms of dry eyes following the LASIK procedure typically subside after a few weeks, some patients have reported their symptoms persist long after surgery. The FDA warns that some patients may develop chronic severe dry eye syndrome following surgery, though these cases are rare and more common in patients who have unmanaged dry eye syndrome prior to surgery.

If you have dry eyes and are considering LASIK, it’s important you notify your eye doctor during your pre-surgery consultation so your doctor can address your symptoms prior to surgery.