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The aim of refractive surgery is to reduce a person's dependence on glasses and contact lenses. This is achieved by treating nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and/or astigmatism. Most refractive surgery techniques rely on altering the shape of the cornea.

The cornea is the transparent outer layer on the front of your eye. It serves as a fixed-focus lens. Behind the iris is the lens, which can adjust its focus. Light entering the eye is bent (refracted) by the cornea and lens so that images are focused on the retina. Poorly focused images can be improved by prescription glasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery.

As the cornea is responsible for about two-thirds of the eye's focusing power, vision can be improved by permanent reshaping of the cornea. Your ophthalmologist will advise you:

  • whether your eyes may benefit from refractive surgery
  • about the type of refractive surgery that would be most suitable for your eyes, general health and lifestyle.

A complete eye examination and history of eye health allows your ophthalmologist to decide whether you are a suitable candidate for refractive surgery, and if so, what results you can realistically expect. Contact lenses can alter the shape of the cornea and make assessment more difficult. You may have to stop wearing soft contact lenses for at least 5 days, or hard contact lenses for about four weeks, before your ophthalmologist can evaluate the natural shape of your cornea.

Refractive surgery is an outpatient procedure that can be performed in about 30 minutes for each eye (with laser eye surgery). Healing is generally rapid. However, you will need to arrange some time off work to allow vision to recover. Your ophthalmologist will give you more detailed instructions before the surgery.

Some images and information provided courtesy of RANZCO and Mi-tec Medical Publishing. The complete RANZCO patient education pamphlet is available from your ophthalmologist.