On March 21 of this year, I had eye laser surgery. It changed my life and the way I'll travel from now on. Because my love for travel was part of what made me decide to get my vision corrected and because lots of people had questions for me when they found out I had it done, I decided to give you the A to Z of my eye surgery experience.
Scroll down a bit if you immediately want to read about my personal eye laser surgery experience and my healing process. Otherwise, I'll start with a bit of background on my eyes, the different eye laser surgery procedures available and why I chose the one I chose.
Be warned: this is a long post!
A bit of background: the little girl with the glasses
At the end of the school year in which I'd turned eight, I suddenly struggled reading things off the blackboard. I started making mistakes during assignments and my teacher noticed something was up. Sure enough, my eyesight had suddenly deteriorated – a lot. And thus I started to wear glasses.
I wore glasses all through primary school. When I went to high school, my parents agreed to let me try contacts and you can imagine my teenage relief when I found out I had no issues wearing them. It only took me three days or so before I could put them in and take them out again without any effort.
Those contacts were great for doing sports, going out and enjoying the trips I made with my parents. However, as years passed, my already naturally dry eyes started getting even drier from wearing the contacts so often and they started to bother me. As I transitioned from high school to university, I started to wear my glasses again whenever I was at home so that I could let my eyes “breathe” a little.
I'd still wear my contacts most of the time when I was traveling, though. That meant that each time I packed, I needed to bring my glasses and their case, my contacts and their container, extra contacts because you never know, contact fluid and fake tears – which I really needed the last couple of years.
It was a hassle and I was sick of it.
On top of that, my glasses started bothering me as well. The last few years I wore them constantly when working from home and they were starting to hurt my ears. I grew increasingly conscious of the fact that I had them on and I knew something had to change.
Enter eye laser surgery.
Which eye laser surgery procedure is the best? ReLEx-smile vs LASEK vs LASIK vs PRK
I'd actually already inquired about getting vision correcting eye laser surgery when I'd just graduated from university, but at the time the procedure still sounded a bit too risky to me plus, the price was rather high and I decided not to go ahead with it. Between then and now, I'd heard and read about quite a few success stories with the procedure and when Boyfriend's cousin told me he'd had it done and was super happy with it, I made up my mind. I'd have my vision corrected.
Once the decision was made, I started searching for information online. As I initially still thought LASIK was the newest eye laser procedure, I started googling for reviews of people who'd had LASIK surgery to find a good eye clinic. During my research, I came across a few reviews that spoke highly of Medifocus, an eye clinic only 15 minutes from where I live in Oud-Heverlee that turned out to be specialized in ReLEx-Smile, an even newer technique that I hadn't previously heard of.
On top of that, I discovered there wasn't just LASIK but also LASEK and so I dug in deeper to learn about all the available procedures.
So, what are the different types of laser eye surgery available and which one is the best?
LASEK and PRK surgery: old school
LASEK and PRK are the oldest eye laser surgery procedures. It's been tried, tested and proven to work, but it's also the most invasive. During LASEK and PRK, the eye specialist removes the exterior layer of the cornea before treating the surface of the stroma with an excimer laser. With the PRK eye surgery procedure, the eye surgeon leaves the cornea off for it to grow back naturally. Wih LASEK, he places the removed cornea back.
I'm sure you realize that this procedure is pretty invasive as part of the eye is literally removed and while it's been perfected over the course of 30 years, it's definitely not the most modern and advanced technique.
During LASIK eye surgery, the eye specialist doesn't remove the cornea entirely. Instead, he creates a flap so that he can open up the cornea – kind of like opening a door – before making the correction with a more accurate femtoseconds laser and closing it back up again. With LASIK surgery, the correction is also made deeper into the stroma instead of on the surface.
This eye laser procedure is the one that's best-known today. Recovery is much quicker than with LASEK/PRK but the downside to LASIK is that the patient needs to be careful with anything that can cause a heavy impact on the eye. That's because while the flap created does heal again, it could rip during something like contact sports or a car crash.
ReLEx-smile: new kid on the block
ReLEx-smile is the newest eye laser surgery technique and during my research, Medifocus (the eye clinic I chose) seemed to be the only eye clinic in Belgium offering this option. In fact, the technique is only a couple years old and very few eye clinics perform it, let alone are specialized in it.
And yet this is the one I chose. Why? It was actually a no-brainer. Recovery with ReLEx-smile is even faster than with LASIK as only a tiny “hole” is made with the laser in the cornea. No large part of the cornea is removed and no flap is made that could rip open again. A tiny part of the cornea tissue is then removed, which reshapes the outer layer of the cornea, improving the eye's vision.
Aside from this technique being less invasive, it also has the quickest recovery time and the highest success rate. Especially for people who have a vision of -4 or worse, ReLEx-smile works better. I had -5 on my left eye and -4.5 on my right. Lastly, it's great for people with dry eyes like me as both PRK/LASEK and LASIK are known to make your eyes drier for months after the surgery, while any possible dryness created through ReLEx-smile disappears much more quickly again.
The only downside: it's the most expensive procedure, at €2000/eye. But it's your eyes, you know? I'm usually a very budget-conscious person, but this was something that would affect the rest of my life, and so I only wanted the best.
LASEK/PRK vs LASIK vs ReLEx-smile: a comparison
The table below comes from the eye laser surgery information brochure available on the website of Medifocus.
My eye laser surgery experience: preliminary examination, surgery and recovery
The preliminary examination
Once I'd decided I'd get my vision corrected, I made an appointment at Medifocus for a preliminary examination. This isn't just a test of your eyesight. It's a very in-depth examination of your eyes to make see which procedure would be possible. Most people can get ReLEx-smile, but not everyone and so you're thoroughly tested beforehand.
Before the day of the examination, you need to keep your contacts out for a week as wearing contacts affects the shape of your eye. They also recommend you to bring a driver as they'll put drops in your eyes to widen your pupils, which means you might be a bit light-sensitive or have a little less vision when you leave the clinic after the examination.
It was funny because when my pupils were all widened, I could suddenly read things on my phone without wearing my glasses but I still needed them for looking at things further away. My sight quickly recovered, though, as I had the examination in the morning and drove effortlessly to dance class in the evening.
During the examination, the eye specialist also thoroughly explained my options to me, including how the recovery would go, what costs would be entailed, how many check-ups I needed done and basically anything else I needed to know. Aside from that, he also questioned me about why I wanted to have my vision corrected. It was very important to him that I was doing this for me – for the kind of lifestyle that I have (lots of travel!) and want to uphold – and not because of some external factors like a job I might want to do but wasn't entirely sure of.
The examination went well and I was approved for the ReLEx-smile procedure, which was the procedure of my choice.
The ReLEX-smile eye laser surgery
I had to leave my contacts out for two days before having the surgery and go to the pharmacist for four kinds of eye drops, but that's all I needed to do in terms of “preparatory work”. On the day of the surgery, my mom drove me to the eye clinic and I was out again in less than an hour. I'm not even exaggerating.
First, they gave me some eye drops to anesthetize my eyes. I had to put a funky green cap on my head and over my shoes and they also gave me this beautifully green operation room gown. You know, the kind that's open in the back (No worries, I was fully dressed).
Then they led me into the operation room where I needed to sit upright on a table so the eye specialist could put a little dot on each of my eyes. This was to mark their position when I was sitting upright, as the surgery would be done while I was laying down. It was a weird experience as I could see the marker approaching my eye, but I didn't feel it make the dot.
When that was done, I lied down on the operation table and got more drops to anesthetize my eyes. A piece of fabric with a hole in the middle was placed over the right side of my face, with the hole allowing access to only my eye. My eye was first taped open before they put some sort of clamp in between my two eyelids so that I wouldn't be able to blink. I know this might all sound a bit icky, but thanks to the drops I didn't feel a thing.
Somewhere during this process, my face also got completely disinfected and I was told that if I'd get an itch, I'd have to tell them and they'd scratch it with something sterilized. Luckily, nothing got itchy.
When all the preparations were done – and I have to say these took longer than the actual surgery – I was placed underneath the laser. All I had to do at that point was look at a green light and, when it went out after 15 seconds – keep looking at the same point in the dark. This was when the laser made the little cut. I didn't feel anything.
When the laser had done its thing my sight through that eye was super blurry and although I could see the eye specialist approaching my eye with a surgical tool, I couldn't make out what it was or what he was doing so it wasn't scary at all. When he corrected my right eye, I felt a pressure which was mildly uncomfortable but not painful. I told him and so he made sure to anesthetize my left eye a little more before making the correction there and this time I didn't feel anything.
After the corrections were made to both of my eyes. I simply walked out the operation room. I thought that everything would be super blurry, but I could see clearly and although I was a bit shaky from the experience, I had no problem walking out (with sunglasses on) and getting back to my apartment (with my mom driving, obviously).
One thing I really want to stretch is how confident I felt during the whole thing and how that was really thanks to Dr. Hugo Van Cleynenbreugel, the eye specialist who performed the surgery. He calmly talked me through the entire procedure, constantly saying what he was doing, where I needed to look and assuring me that I was doing great. I didn't feel scared at any point.
Because I knew I wouldn't be able to work or really do anything that day, I'd downloaded an audio book and a bunch of podcasts episodes beforehand, but I have to say I didn't listen to many. When I got home, I crashed on the couch for a bit and I think I nodded off because at one point I suddenly realized my eyes were prickly. I put in the painkilling eye drops I'd gotten and that was the only time during my recovery that I used them. The pain went away and stayed away.
Thinking about it now it's pretty amazing, isn't it? I had surgery on both my eyes and they hurt mildly for about an hour or so.
I did still have to use other drops, though. Here's what my “drop schedule” looked like:
- painkiller drops when I needed them (happened only once)
- moisterizing drops every hour (I still use those)
- other drops a few times per day for the first week after my surgery
- fourth kind of drops two times a day from day 8 until day 21 after my surgery
After a few hours of doing nothing, I quickly realized that I could actually use my phone already and watch television. I could even read! And so although I took it easy that first day, it wasn't like I couldn't do anything.
Now, officially it takes up to six months for your eyes to stabilize entirely and the process is a bit different for everyone. Some ReLEx-smile side effects you might experience are:
- clear sight one moment and blurriness the next
- seeing halos around light sources in the dark
- light sensitivity
- slower recovery when it comes to reading
- fatigue because your brain isn't used to your new vision yet and needs to adjust how it processes all the incoming images
Oddly enough, I wasn't that sensitive to light right after my eye laser surgery, but I was for a day or two a few days later. I didn't suffer from seeing halos, but the first time I drove in the dark – which was three days after my surgery – I did find the headlights of the cars coming from the opposite direction a bit painful.
My vision was also better right after the surgery than on days 2-4 but I think that was my own fault. While it's completely normal for it to fluctuate a bit, I think I overdid it with spending a full day working on my laptop the day after my surgery. Woops… I could read so I thought it was fine, but it was so super tiring and I noticed that because I pushed myself, I got nauseous and my sight deteriorated.
Don't worry, this was only temporary. You can't do anything that causes your sight to actually get worse again. The fluctuations are just part of the recovery process. After a few days of taking it easy, I could work on the laptop without any problem.
My eye laser surgery results
After you've had the surgery, you need to go back for check-ups four times. Once the day right after the surgery (best to take a driver just to be sure), once a week after the surgery, then five to six weeks later and then one last time six months later.
When I went back the day after the surgery, my left eye had improved to 100% and my right eye to 90%. I was super happy but also a bit confused as I didn't feel like I was seeing 100%. The eye specialist explained to me that while my vision had already recovered that much, I was only experienced it to be around 70% because my eyes hadn't stabilized yet.
When I went back a week later, my left eye was at 110% and my right at 100%. Basically, that meant that I could read an extra line of small letters during that eyesight that every eye specialist makes you take.
Six weeks later, I could read another extra line and the surgeon told me I had better sight than some of the pilots he saw. Score! At the time of writing, I'm only using my eye drops when I wake up and sometimes at night. The rest of the day my eyes are perfectly fine and not dry anymore at all.
Now I only need to go back one more time end of September. By then, my eyes will be fully stabilized. They're about 98% stabilized right now but honestly, they feel like 100% to me.
1. How much does laser eye surgery cost?
The cost for ReLEx-smile surgery is 2000/eye. The cost of lasik is a bit lower, at around €1500/eye.
Yes, that's a lot of money, but when I compared the cost of laser eye surgery with the cost of buying contacts every six months, buying contact fluid, glasses every so many years etc., the eye surgery didn't come out that much more expensive and all the benefits it has made the price really worth it for me.
2. How bad were your eyes?
-5 on the left, -4.5 on the right.
3. Why did you decide to have it done at Medifocus?
When I was checking out laser eye surgery reviews on different forums, Dr. Van Cleynenbreugel and his team at Medifocus got nothing but positive comments and people seemed really happy with the way they'd handled the whole procedure. After having my preliminary examination there, I also felt really at ease with him. On top of that, his credentials are impressive. The fact that Medifocus is only a 15-minute drive from where I live was a nice plus.
You can find out more about Medifocus on their website.
4. Does laser eye surgery hurt?
I had one minute (literally) during the surgery where I felt an uncomfortable but not painful pressure and only an hour or so of prickliness after the surgery.
5. Having been through the ReLEx-smile eye surgery and the recovery process, would you do it again?
In a heartbeat.
6. How has the surgery changed your life?
It took away so much fuss. Now that I don't have to wear my contacts or glasses anymore, I realize even more than before how much hassle they were.
- I don't have to grab my glasses anymore when I need to go to the toilet at night.
- Putting on my glasses is not the first thing I do in the morning.
- I don't need to think about what I'll be doing that day to calculate when I should put in my contacts if I need to wear them for something so that my eyes won't get dry too soon.
- I don't need to pack all that stuff when I travel and have fewer liquids with me, which is a nice plus for someone who usually travels carry-on only.
- My glasses don't poke in Boyfriend's chest when I'm lying in his arms on the couch.
- I don't need to worry about losing my contacts or not seeing anything when I go swimming.
- I don't need to worry about losing a contact when I'm somewhere wandering through a city.
- No more eye snot after having worn my contacts for too long.
- No more sand, eyelashes or dust getting stuck between my lens and my eye (auwch!)
In brief, it has just made life so much easier.
Facebook Q&A about my surgery
A while ago, I did a live Q&A on Facebook about my eye laser surgery. This was the day of my second check-up. You can rewatch it here:
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I'm not an eye specialist. This post is purely a reflection of my personal experience with the Relex Smile laser eye treatment and should in no way be considered medical advice. If you're interested in seeing perfectly again without any glasses or lenses, I recommend you get an appointment yourself.