Does Lasik Cause Dry Eye?

Barrett Eubanks, M.D. | October 20, 2021

Does Lasik Cause Dry Eye?

Dry eye is a concern for anyone thinking about lasik. And truthfully, lasik does cause short term dryness. Let’s learn how and why it doesn't have to be a problem.

Dryness is caused a few different ways on the eye. One of those ways is that the eye doesn’t produce enough tears. You may have noticed that if you get something in the eye, the eye produces lots of tears to try to wash the debris out (a very smart function of the eye). This is called reflex tearing. At the same time, tearing is happening constantly in the background (called your “basal tear rate”). Both of these functions happen because of tiny microscopic nerves within your cornea.

A key step in lasik is the creation of the lasik flap in the stroma of the cornea. This lasik flap disrupts the connection of these tiny nerves in the cornea. As a result, these nerves suddenly can't detect any stimulus to produce tears. You lose that reflex tearing. As a result you start to produce less tears. As you produce less tears, the eye drys out a little more.

Fortunately, these nerves grow back. And after approximately six months, these nerves are all fully grown again. Thus this dryness is a short term phenomenon. And in reality, most people without any dryness before lasik may only have dryness for about the first month. Those with a little bit more dryness or contact lens intolerance prior to lasik may notice this dryness for a little bit longer.

To replace the function of these nerves in the short term, however, you will use artificial tears regularly on the surface of the eye. It's important to use these artificial tears to keep the eye in close to its normal state of health. Keeping the dryness under control after lasik (rather than letting it get out of control) allows for a quicker recovery. After everything is all healed up, the eyes return to what they were prior to the lasik. Completing the recovery process.

Dry eye is something that can be expected after lasik, but with the appropriate management and treatment, it recovers over time.

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