Considering laser eye surgery? What you need to know

Refractive eye surgery refers to any surgical procedure that is used to correct or improve vision problems.

What it can help with

Refractive surgery might be recommended if you have a refractive error—or problems with focusing light onto the retina, which leads to blurred vision.

This includes short-sightedness (myopia), long-sightedness (hyperopia), astigmatism (an irregular shape in the cornea or lens) and presbyopia (age-related changes to the eye).

Refractive eye surgery may also be used to treat other eye conditions, including diabetic eye diseases, some cases of glaucoma, cataracts, and some cases of age-related macular degeneration.

Laser surgery is one type of refractive eye surgery.

What’s involved?

Laser eye surgery is performed by an ophthalmologist (specialist eye doctor), often in a laser eye clinic. The surgeon uses a controlled beam of light (laser) to perform the procedure.

LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) is the most common procedure for reshaping the cornea—the clear dome covering the front of your eye, which focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye. The surgeon cuts a tiny flap into the cornea’s outer layer, then uses a computer-controlled laser to reshape the tissue underneath before replacing the flap.

In PRK (photorefractive keratectomy), also known as ASLA (advanced surface laser ablation), the surgeon scrapes away a small area of the top corneal layer before reshaping it with a laser. The cornea then heals naturally.

Another procedure, known as SMILE (small incision lenticular extraction) uses a laser to cut out and remove a small disc of tissue (lenticule) from within the cornea. This changes its shape, thereby improving vision.

LASEK (laser-assisted subepithelial keratomileusis) is a less common procedure that involves pushing aside the cornea’s top layer to allow laser to be used on its surface. This layer is replaced afterwards.

It’s important to note that laser eye surgery is not suitable for everyone and doesn’t guarantee that you’ll no longer need glasses or contact lenses.

Nor is it without risk of complications. It’s best to discuss your visual problems with your eye specialist to work out the best type of treatment for you.

How much does it cost?

Laser eye surgery can cost anywhere from around $2000 to $6,000 per eye, depending on the procedure and costs charged by individual surgeons. Medicare does not usually cover the cost of laser eye surgery, unless it’s used to treat certain eye diseases.

Many private health insurance policies cover eye surgeries to some extent, including corrective laser surgery.

Defence Health members with top-level extras may be eligible to claim benefits (every two years) for LASIK, PRK or SMILE eye surgery in a recognised day surgery centre (depending on the level of extras cover).