How to Tell if I Got PRK or Lasik?

Last month, I underwent what I believed to be PRK (at least that's what I wanted). However, there is no mention of PRK or (photo-refractive keratectomy) on the "Operative Report." In the pre-op and post-op paperwork, "PRK" is present.

My mother, who was watching the says that the "VISX" machine that was used for the CustomVue treatment listed the procedure as "LASIK." So, how can I be sure that I received PRK and not LASIK?

The operative report also indicates that "Physician has specified a LASIK Treatment, Superior Flap." I chose PRK to avoid the flap. Please advise. Thanks.

Doctor Answers 11


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If you're still unsure, just give your doctor a call! I'm sure his or her tech will be happy to look it up for you.

Washington DC Ophthalmologist

How to tell PRK from LASIK

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When doing PRK, alcohol is used to loosen the epithelium, or the surface of the cornea, and it is typically placed in a well held securely down on the eye for several seconds (30 second perhaps; the time can vary by surgeon preference). You might have heard someone couting this off at the beginnng of each eye's surgery.

For LASIK, of course, a keratome is used to create a flap, and this can either be done mechanically or with a laser. Either way it makes a noise, whereas the alcohol well with PRK does not. Then, I agree with the previous answer in that the several days immediately post-op are the telling times. PRK is typically uncomfortable requiring the patient to wear contact lenses. Patients frequently complain of increased light sensitivity, tearing, etc. LASIK patients are typically much more comfortable much more quickly. I feel that the flap can in fact present some potential for complications, and actually might be in the minority of surgeons, but do more PRK than LASIK. We'll see over the years how this plays out.

David M. Mills, MD, FACS
Pensacola Oculoplastic Surgeon


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The VISX machine is used for both PRK and LASIK.  A separate machine is used to make the flap, either an automated keratome blade or a different laser machine called a femtosecond laser. 

If only the VISX was used, you had PRK.  Also, since PRK ablates the surface of the cornea, the vision is often blurred for the first week after the surgery and the eyes feel scratchy.  Also, after PRK, your surgeon will generally leave contact lenses in your eyes for several days to make you more comfortable unlike in LASIK.  But the simplest way to be certain that you had PRK would be to ask your surgeon, or if he is not available have another ophthalmologist look at your eyes and tell you.

If you wore contact lenses after the procedure for about 3 days and then had them removed by your doctor then you had PRK, if not, it was very likely LASIK.

Michael K. Tracy, MD
San Diego Ophthalmologist

Which did I have, LASIK or PRK?

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Both procedures use the same laser.  The difference is whether a flap was made for LASIK or if longer healing was required for PRK.  Generally, eye doctors can look at your cornea and see if a flap was made.  Sometimes, though, it can be very hard to see the flap even with careful examination.  If you think back to your procedure, LASIK patients heal overnight and PRK patients generally take 3-5 days to heal and have more discomfort for a much longer period of time.

Mark Golden, MD
Chicago Ophthalmologist

The same laser can be used for PRK and LASIK

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The same laser can be used for PRK and LASIK.  The main difference is that a flap is created for LASIK.  This preserves the outer corneal tissue layer (epithelium) and allows for speedier, pain-free recovery.  With PRK, this epithelium is removed with special instruments such as a brush or blade.  Generally a bandage contact lens is used for 3-5 days post-operatively to help manage the discomfort (pain).  The vision also usually takes 1-2 weeks to recover.  If you saw well the next day after surgery and did not have a bandage contact lens, chances are LASIK was performed.  VISX is the brand name of the excimer laser that reshapes the cornea in both LASIK and PRK.  CustomVue stands for the more advanced technology software used with the VISX excimer laser and can be used for LASIK and PRK.  Not sure why you wanted PRK over LASIK but your surgeon should be able to let you know which procedure you had.  It’s very important to be able to trust the surgeon who is operating on your eyes.

Christopher Coad, MD
New York Ophthalmologist

How to Tell if I Got PRK or Lasik?

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It is unfortunate that this confusion exists.  I would first suggest that you ask the question to the surgeon directly.  It is also quite easy for another Ophthalmologist to figure out with an eye exam if you are not satisfied with the response.

There are significant early post-operative differences between PRK and LASIK.  With LASIK, there is minimal discomfort and downtime and rarely is a bandage contact lens placed upon your eye immediately after the procedure.  With PRK, the surgeon places a bandage contact lens upon your eye immediately after the procedue and it is usually left in place for 3-5 days along with moderate discomfort and light sensitivity. 

The operative report from the laser can be somewhat confusing because many surgeons have the default set to LASIK even when they perform PRK. 

Jay Bansal, MD
San Francisco Ophthalmologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews


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I think you should ask your surgeon - that's the simplest way to find out.  As others have pointed out - a contact lens is usually placed after PRK and there is more discomfort and healing time after PRK.  You could also go to another ophthalmologist - if you had LASIK they would be able to see the flap interface if you had LASIK.

Keshini Parbhu, MD
Orlando Oculoplastic Surgeon


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There is a pretty significant difference in your vision following PRK vs. LASIK. After PRK, your vision will typically be very blurry for many days or weeks. There is also pretty significant discomfort for the first couple of days. Following LASIK, most patients see very well the day after surgery and have minimal discomfort. Hope that helps!

Thomas E. Clinch, MD
Washington DC Ophthalmologist

How can I tell whether I had PRK or LASIK

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Well, there are two answers. The easiest thing to do would be to call your surgeons office and ask. If you want to figure it out on your own though, here is how to do that:

If you can recall the first three days following your procedure, if you wore a contact lens for comfort for the first few days, the likelihood is you had PRK. You see, both PRK and LASIK are terrific procedures(I had PRK in 1994). LASIK, typically, has a quicker healing time, so comfort and vision are better within the first 6-12 hours. PRK involves a slightly greater disturbance of the corneal surface(but the same visual result as LASIK), so the vision and comfort improve over several days not hours. Contact lenses are typically placed after PRK for 2-4 days in order to make the patient more comfortable.

So, using your early experience as a guide, you may know the answer yourself!

Anthony J. Kameen, MD
Baltimore Ophthalmologist


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These two procedures are similar in that the same excimer laser is often utilized for both PRK and LASIK. In LASIK, we often use two lasers, one, a femtosecond laser such as the Intralase, to create the flap and the second, the VISX, to recontour the cornea. The healing and discomfort is different for both procedures. In LASIK, the vision one day after surgery, is often good and one can return to most activities. With PRK, the healing is usually longer as the front surface, the epithelium, heals. There is more light sensitivity and often, discomfort while healing is taking place.

The operative report printed by the VISX may be a default if one is using custom procedures and does not necessarily indicate that LASIK was performed.

Sandy Feldman, MD
San Diego Ophthalmologist

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.