What is PRK Eye Surgery?

As vision correction technology improves, people struggling with vision issues have more options to consider. 

Of course there are glasses as a standard option, which can be used to correct a wide variety of vision issues, as well as contact lenses that are advancing at a rapid pace in terms of their comfortability, technology, and effectiveness.

In addition to these tried and true vision correction methods, there are also various types of laser refractive surgeries that can be considered as options as well. One of the most common types of these surgeries is PRK.

However, refractive surgery is not for everyone. It’s important to remember that surgery can have disadvantages compared to contact lenses depending on your type of vision issue and its severity, as well as cost and comfort considerations.

What is PRK Eye Surgery?

PRK stands for photorefractive keratectomy and it was the first laser refractive eye surgery to be put into common practice. 

Despite being “the original” laser eye surgery, PRK is still commonly performed even though newer procedures have come along. 

Many times, when you hear someone say they had LASIK done, they actually had PRK. In fact, in military settings such as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, PRK is performed more often than LASIK on military service members due to recovery and risk considerations.

How PRK Works

During PRK, the surface layer of corneal cells, called epithelium, is removed with

a small brush, then the laser reshapes the front surface of the cornea

Over the next several days, the epithelial cells that were removed grow back and return to normal.

Pros of PRK

There are many advantages to PRK eye surgery, especially for vision issues that are less severe.

It is an excellent option for treating mild to moderate levels of nearsightedness and

astigmatism without the need for cutting a flap in the cornea, as LASIK does. 

Long term vision results are statistically equivalent to LASIK. It can sometimes still be performed on people with corneas that are too thin to do LASIK, or have other mild irregularities with their corneal shape that prevent them from getting LASIK.

Cons of PRK

As new and improved methods of laser refractive eye surgeries are developed, PRK has acquired some drawbacks in comparison.

It takes longer to heal compared to LASIK or SMILE eye surgeries

Vision takes a bit longer to become crisp with PRK and happens more gradually. Patients’ vision is usually around 20/30 one week after PRK, close to 20/20 at one month, and very sharp (20/20 to 20/15) at around 2 months on average. 

It is also more uncomfortable in the first few days following surgery compared to LASIK, ranging anywhere from mild sensitivity like an eyelash in the eye to being quite painful and light sensitive. Of course, medications are given to help with the discomfort while the eyes heal.

PRK vs. RK Eye Surgery

PRK is sometimes confused with an older procedure called RK (radial keratotomy).  

RK is a non-laser type of surgery that is not typically performed in most countries anymore, as laser procedures are superior in just about every way. If a doctor is offering you RK surgery, go to a different doctor.

Comparing PRK to Other Laser Refractive Eye Surgeries

The types of laser refractive eye surgeries all work a little differently. Here is a diagram to help visually show the difference between these procedures and how they work.

Unlike LASIK or SMILE, PRK actually removes the epithelial layer to reshape the cornea with the laser.

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