Refractive surgery is the term used to describe any of a variety of eye surgeries to correct refractive errors and thereby reduce or eliminate a person’s need for eyeglasses or contact lenses.
"Refractive errors" include myopia(nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism.
The most popular refractive surgery today is LASIK, a laser vision correction procedure that improves eyesight by reshaping the front surface of the eye with an excimer laser. ("LASIK" is an acronym for "laser in situ keratomileusis," which means "to reshape the living cornea.")
Other common laser procedures for vision correction include:
- PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy)
There are also non-laser refractive surgery procedures. Though these are not as popular as LASIK and other laser procedures, they may be the surgery of choice in some cases. These procedures include:
- Implantable lenses such as the Visian ICL
- Intacs implanted corneal segments (primarily for keratoconus)
- Astigmatic keratectomy
- Refractive lens exchange a/k/a clear lens extraction
More than 90% of refractive eye surgeries performed in the United States are LASIK procedures. However, depending on your refractive error and other factors, your eye doctor may recommend PRK, Epi-LASEK, LASEK, or implantable lenses.
Researchers are currently investigating a number of emerging refractive surgery technologies. In particular, companies are looking for a way to use refractive surgery to correct presbyopia.
If you choose not to have refractive surgery, your options will be eyeglasses and contact lenses. Some commercial organizations are promoting eye exercises as a way to eliminate eyeglasses and contact lenses without resorting to surgery. However, there is no medical or scientific evidence that refractive error can be cured with eye exercises (read an article on Quackwatch about this).