What is PRK? Is It Painful?

What is PRK?  Is It Painful?

Doctor Answers 8

PRK is less painful with modern surgical techniques

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Think of PRK as 'Flap-less LASIK'. Both procedures are identical when it comes to correcting your eyeglass prescription, the only difference is that with LASIK a corneal flap is cut first (with a different machine) and in PRK the surface corneal epithelial cells (thin outer covering of the cornea) are removed first. PRK is often referred to as Surface Ablation because the laser treatment is performed closer to the corneal surface whereas in LASIK, because a flap is cut first , the laser treatment occurs much deeper in the cornea. PRK and other surface ablation procedures (LASEK, epi-LASIK) typically involve a little more post-operative discomfort when compared to LASIK. In my practice the average pain score on the first night and first day after PRK is between 0 and 1 on a pain scale from 0 (no pain) to 5 (worst pain of your life). With modern surgical techniques and medicines the pain after PRK is much much less than it used to be.

New York Ophthalmologist

Photorefractive Keratectomy, PRK

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PRK,  an abbreviation for Photorefractive Keratectomy, is an all laser eye procedure that is an alternative to LASIK to correct nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness, (hyperopia), and astigmatism. PRK is an excellent alternative for individuals who are not candidates for LASIK, and many patients see even better than they did with glasses or contact lenses. The procedure take only about 5 minutes an eye to perform, but healing time is a bit longer than LASIK. The results are just as good and in low to moderate nearsightedness, 98% of individuals achieve 20/20 or better uncorrected acuity* *FDA studies of CustomVue low to moderate nearsightedness up to -6.0D with up to 3.0 D of astigmatism.

Sandy Feldman, MD
San Diego Ophthalmologist

What is PRK?

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PRK means photorefracitve keratectomy.  It is laser eye surgery that corrects vision by reshaping the cornea, very similar to LASIK. 


It has been performed in the US for about 15 years with greater than 95% success at eliminating the need for glasses or contact lenses completely and higher for substantially reducing the need for glasses or contact lenses.  The procedure does not require creating a flap in the cornea like LASIK and because most LASIK complications are related to the flap, PRK is very safe.


The difference between PRK and LASIK is that during PRK instead of creating a flap the outermost layer of the cornea is simply removed and then the laser is applied to correct the vision. During the healing process this layer of the cornea regenerates and heals. There is some discomfort during the recovery phase (approximately one week), although is becomes progressively less over that period of time.  The initial discomfort has been compared to the feeling after having a contact lens in the eye for too long.

Michael K. Tracy, MD
San Diego Ophthalmologist

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PRK stands for Photo Refractive Keratectomy

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PRK stands for Photo Refractive Keratectomy and has been an FDA approved procedure for laser vision correction since the early 1990’s.  An excimer laser is used to reshape the cornea after removing the cornea’s outermost layer, called the epithelium which then heals over in subsequent days to weeks.  The post operative pain can usually be successfully managed with drops, pain medications and a bandage contact lens.

Christopher Coad, MD
New York Ophthalmologist

PRK: The original laser eye surgery

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It may be hard to believe these days, when everything is "LASIK this" and "LASIK that," but PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) used to be the most common refractive surgery procedure.

Both are grouped under the umbrella "laser eye surgery," but each is a little different when it comes to advantages and disadvantages.

LASIK patients have less discomfort and obtain good vision more quickly (with PRK improvement is gradual and over a few days or even months), but many surgeons prefer PRK for patients with larger pupils or thin corneas. Dr. Drucker is one of these surgeons, and, in fact, is a PRK specialist.

PRK was invented in the early 1980s. The first FDA approval of a laser for PRK was in 1995, but the procedure was practiced in other countries for years. In fact, many Americans had the surgery done in Canada before it was available in the United States.

PRK is performed with an excimer laser, which uses a cool ultraviolet light beam to precisely remove ("ablate") very tiny bits of tissue from the surface of the cornea in order to reshape it. When you reshape the cornea in the right way, it works better to focus light into the eye and onto the retina, providing clearer vision than before.

Both nearsighted and farsighted people can benefit from PRK. With nearsighted people, the goal is to flatten the too-steep cornea; with farsighted people, a steeper cornea is desired. Also, excimer lasers can correct astigmatism by smoothing an irregular cornea into a more normal shape.

David Drucker, MD
Denver Ophthalmologist

PRK can be painful for a few days

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PRK is the process of lasering the front of the eye after removing the protective skin or epithelium that covers the eye and has many nerve endings.  It is not the PRK itself that is painful, but the denuded surface which is a large corneal abrasion which must heal.

Many things can be done to minimize discomfort such as topical medications (drops), contact lenses, systemic analgesics (pain pills) and cool compresses.  Usually the pain is relatively short in duration lasting just a few days, but sometimes it can be severe.

This is why LASIK is so popular because it is relatively pain free and accomplishes the same visual result.  Some people are better suited to PRK and in these cases, the discomfort is worth it.  We have had a number of patients who report only mild discomfort with PRK so it is variable.

Jon Dishler, MD, FACS
Greenwood Village Ophthalmologist

What is PRK and is it Painful

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The term PRK stands for photorefractive keratectomy and is an alternate method of performing laser vision correction. It is also the way my nearsightedness and astigmatism were corrected in 1994. PRK is performed on the surface of the cornea, rather than underneath a corneal flap(LASIK). As a result, the visual recovery is somewhat slower(measured in days to weeks) as compared to LASIK(hours to days). There is some increased postoperative discomfort with PRK because the corneal surface takes a little longer to heal. Over the years, patients and surgeons alike have gravitated towards LASIK because of speedier recovery. There is certainly nothing wrong with PRK in terms of results.....the long term results of PRK  are equal to LASIK. The decision as to whether a patient should have PRK or LASIK is one that is made with the surgeon and has everything to do with which procedure is the safest and best for you.

Anthony J. Kameen, MD
Baltimore Ophthalmologist

PRK--What is it and is it painful?

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PRK stands for Photo-Refractive Keratectomy, and is actually a very effective treatment for people with refractive errors--myopia or nearsightedness, hyperopia or farsightedness, and astigmatism.  In the simplest of explanations, this treatment involves the use of the excimer laser to remove corneal tissue and reshape the surface of the eye, similar to LASIK.  However, this differs from LASIK in that there is no corneal tissue flap created.  Rather, in PRK the surface or epithelial cells are removed from the cornea, and excimer laser is then used to reshape the tissue.  The procedure itself is painless, but the recovery can be somewhat uncomfortable.  To prevent postoperative pain, typically a very thin bandage contact lens is placed on the eye, and oral pain medications and mild numbing eye drops are prescribed.  From the patient's perspective, PRK is more uncomfortable than LASIK, and the vision takes longer to recover, typically becoming stable 3-4 weeks after the procedure, as compared to a few days with LASIK.  Once healed, however, the vision is very good following PRK; several studies have been performed to compare PRK to LASIK, and some studies show the vision very slightly better with one versus the other, and vice versa.

Robert Rivera, MD
Phoenix 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.