PRK was the first vision correction surgery procedure to be approved by the FDA in 1995 (even before LASIK). Since then, this procedure has helped millions of people achieve clearer vision.

PRK: A LASIK Alternative

PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) is a form of vision correction surgery that, like LASIK, reshapes the cornea to help patients achieve clearer vision. For many patients who are not good candidates for LASIK, PRK is an ideal alternative that offers comparable visual outcomes and patient satisfaction rates.1

What Does PRK Treat?

PRK can be performed to treat a range of refractive errors, such as:


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Like LASIK, PRK is performed to correct refractive errors by reshaping the cornea. Both procedures involve the use of an excimer laser to remove small amounts of corneal tissue, optimizing the shape of the cornea to properly refract (bend) light and create clearer images.

The main procedural difference between LASIK and PRK is the way the surgeon accesses the corneal tissue. During LASIK, a flap is created in the surface of the cornea then lasers are used to reshape the cornea. During PRK, the entire outermost layer of the cornea is removed before reshaping begins.2

PRK and LASIK are both outpatient procedures, but the recovery period after PRK is slightly longer because the epithelial layer of the cornea needs to grow back. This typically takes 3-5 days. Additionally, PRK patients may need to wait slightly longer to realize the full extent of their vision correction than LASIK patients do. Still, despite a slightly longer recovery period and a longer wait to realize optimal vision, visual outcomes and patient satisfaction rates for PRK and LASIK are very similar.

Very happy young couple holding eachother

Who is a Candidate for PRK?

Some patients who do not qualify for vision correction with LASIK are still great candidates for PRK. To determine whether you are a good PRK candidate, your eye doctor will perform a thorough examination and review of your medical history. In general, candidates for PRK:

  • Are over the age of 21
  • Have a stable refractive error (no prescription changes for at least 18 months)
  • Have adequate corneal thickness
  • Have generally healthy eyes
  • Are in good overall health
  • Understand potential risks of the procedure and have realistic expectations

When you meet with a Tidewater eye surgeon to discuss your vision correction options, we will be honest about the health of your eyes and what you can expect from the PRK experience. We will also let you know whether PRK is the right option for you.

PRK: What to Expect

Preparing for PRK

The first step in preparing for PRK is to undergo a thorough examination by your Tidewater eye doctor. At this time, you will have the opportunity to discuss all vision correction options and decide whether PRK is the best option for you.

When you arrive at our Chesapeake center for your PRK procedure, we request that you not be wearing any makeup, lotions, or creams on your face. You will not be permitted to drive yourself home after the procedure, so please make arrangements for transportation with a friend or family member.

The PRK Procedure

Just like LASIK, PRK is a quick outpatient procedure performed at our Chesapeake location. Though the surgery itself only takes minutes, you can expect to be at our office for a couple of hours.

Before PRK, you will be administered numbing eye drops to ensure your comfort. You may also be given a mild sedative to help you stay calm. A device called an optical speculum will be used to hold your eyes open and prevent you from blinking during the procedure.

To begin the PRK procedure, the surgeon will gently remove the outer layer of the cornea (the epithelial layer). Once the underlying tissue is exposed, the surgeon will use an excimer laser to reshape the cornea into a more spherical shape, helping light properly focus on the retina to improve vision.

After the procedure is finished, your surgeon will place a temporary contact lens over the cornea to protect your eye as the epithelial cells regenerate. You will briefly relax in a recovery room before the surgeon gives your eyes one final check. After that, you will be released to be driven home by a friend or family member.

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Recovery After PRK

Recovery from PRK vision correction surgery takes slightly longer than LASIK recovery, because the epithelial cells of the cornea need time to regenerate. This should take roughly 3-5 days, during which you will need to wear a temporary contact lens at all times to protect your eye.

Young woman comfortably recovering on the couch under a blanket

After PRK, it is normal to experience some temporary discomfort as the eyes heal. Patients may report:

  • Mild pain
  • Inflammation
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Watery eyes
  • Hazy vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Sensitivity to light

As you recover from PRK, please avoid rubbing or touching your eyes as this could impede the healing process. Be sure to discuss any side effects you experience with your surgeon during your post-operative follow-up.

Most patients can expect to take 2-3 days off of work as they recover from PRK. You should be able to return to non-strenuous activities within a week or two, and should notice your final vision correction results in about a month.

Frequently Asked Questions About PRK

Is PRK painful?

You will be given anesthetic drops to numb your eyes before the PRK procedure, so you should not feel any pain during the surgery. Some patients do report temporary discomfort during the PRK recovery process, such as throbbing or the sensation that a foreign substance is in the eye. This can be easily managed with over-the-counter pain medications.

Is PRK safe?

PRK is generally considered to be a very safe and effective procedure. However, every surgical procedure is associated with some risks. Risks of PRK may include:

Will PRK permanently correct my vision?

The changes made to your corneas during PRK are permanent, so the refractive error(s) treated by PRK will not return. However, as the eyes age it is possible for new vision corrections to arise. One such condition is presbyopia, age-related near vision loss. Even after PRK, people who develop presbyopia may require reading glasses for up-close tasks. It is also possible to develop cataracts after PRK, which may lead to blurry or cloudy vision and can be corrected with cataract surgery.

Can I have PRK on both eyes at once?

Yes. Actually, we prefer to perform PRK on both eyes during a single session, as this reduces our patients’ recovery period and time away from work.

Contact Tidewater Eye Centers in Chesapeake

If you are interested in vision correction surgery and have been told you’re not a good candidate for LASIK, don’t worry. It may still be possible for you to achieve clear, crisp vision with PRK. To learn more about PRK, please contact us at Tidewater Eye Centers to schedule a consultation with an experienced eye surgeon.

The doctors at Tidewater Eye Centers have either authored or reviewed the content on this site.




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