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Dry eyes after laser eye surgery (LASIK): causes and treatment

Posted on 28 September 2022

Dry eyes are common after LASIK but the good news is that symptoms usually quickly improve – and disappear altogether after a few months.1

Read on to find out more about LASIK and dry eyes, including why the very popular procedure can leave your eyes dry and itchy.

We’ll also have a look at how to soothe dry eyes after LASIK (there are lots of options!), as well as what to do if your eyes are too dry to have LASIK in the first place.

LASIK fast facts

  • LASIK stands for laser in-situ keratomileusis – or plain old laser eye surgery!2
  • It’s used to correct long and short-sightedness and astigmatism – a condition that makes vision blurry.2
  • At least 19 million people have had it in the US alone.3 That’s more than the entire population of the Netherlands – or Austria and Switzerland combined!
  • It takes less than 30 minutes for a special laser to reshape your cornea, the clear front part of your eye.4
  • This allows light to focus better on the delicate tissue at the back of your eye, making it easier to see clearly.4
  • It’s very successful – 96% or so of patients get the results they want!2 In other words, you probably won’t need to wear your glasses or contacts much afterwards.4
  • Risks and side-effects include glare, seeing halos around images, double vision, trouble driving at night and, yes, dry eye.2,4

Does LASIK cause dry eye?

Dry eye is common after LASIK, in fact, almost everyone (95%) experiences it.5

But LASIK isn’t always to blame.  In fact, up to three-quarters of people who have dry and itchy eyes after surgery had symptoms beforehand too.5

What are dry eyes?

Like its name suggests, dry eye is a condition where the eyes are drier than they should be.  

The signs and symptoms of dry eye usually affect both eyes and can include itchiness, redness, a  burning sensation, watery eyes, heavy feeling eyes, blurry vision, a gritty feeling, sensitivity to light and eye strain.6,7

Did you know?

Most people can go back to work a day or two after their surgery. And, if your eye surgeon clears you, you can drive the next day (although you’ll need to ask someone to drive you home after your op).8

How long will I have dry eye after LASIK?

It can be frustrating to find out that, while your vision has improved, your eyes are dry and itchy.  But these symptoms will usually go away pretty quickly.

Many people say their dry eye has cleared up after a month9 and by six or 12 months after LASIK, most find that their symptoms have disappeared.5

A few people may still have dry eyes a year after laser surgery, though.10

Can dry eye be permanent after LASIK?

Yes. It’s rare but, very occasionally, LASIK can lead to severe dry eye which is chronic, meaning it doesn’t completely clear up.

Fun fact

Celebs who have had LASIK include Tiger Woods. After his op, he went on a winning streak that saw him go on to dominate the world of golf.11 

How does LASIK cause dry eye?

No one’s totally sure!  One idea is that temporary damage to some of the nerves in the eye stops it from making enough tears.5

Another idea is that inflammation, which plays a vital role in healing after surgery, may somehow also be making the eyes drier.5

Or it may be that tears find it harder to spread evenly, due to the eye’s new shape.1

Can I have blurry vision, as well as dry eye, after LASIK?

If your eye’s new shape is making it harder for your tears to spread, you can find it more difficult to focus. This can make your vision blurry but it should only be temporary.10

Who is more likely to have dry eyes after LASIK?

While there’s no way of knowing for definite if you will have dry eyes after LASIK, it is more common in some people than others.

Things that may up your risk include:5,10

  • Being female
  • Being post-menopausal
  • Being of Asian descent
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Having diabetes

Also, if you were very short-sighted before LASIK, you may also be more likely to have dry eyes afterwards.5

I’ve got dry eye. Can I have LASIK?

LASIK isn’t suitable for everyone but having dry eyes doesn’t necessarily rule you out.10

Eye doctors usually carry out various tests before your surgery to check if you have dry eye and, if you do, how severe it is.12  They’ll then weigh up the pros and cons of operating on you.

They might ask you to try eye drops or other treatments for your dry eyes before they do LASIK.1

If the treatments don’t help, they might decide that LASIK isn’t for you.1

Top tip

If you already have dry eyes, don’t wait for your eye surgeon to bring up the topic – mention it yourself.

What happens if my eyes are too dry for LASIK?

If you have your heart set on LASIK, it can be disappointing to be told it isn’t for you.  But there are other things you may be able to try.

Alternatives include a newer type of laser surgery called SMILE. In fact, if you have an active job or play a lot of sport, SMILE may be a better choice than LASIK.13

Your doctor may even dispense with lasers altogether and use radio waves14 or implant special contact lenses to correct your vision.15

Not all of these are suitable for everyone, though, and your eye doctor will work out what is best for you.1

How to treat dry eyes after LASIK

There are lots of things you can do to soothe dry eyes.

One of the first things to try is topping up your tears.5  Eye drops, such as Cationorm, can replenish your body’s supply of tears, rehydrate and quickly relieve discomfort, especially if your symptoms are mild.

Your eye doctor might suggest punctual plugs – tiny devices the size of a grain of rice that, once popped into your tear ducts, help store up your tears.  Or they might prescribe other eye drops that tackle inflammation.1

There are also lots of small changes you can make to your lifestyle to help stop your tears from drying up too quickly. To make the most of your tears:1

  • Wear wraparound sunglasses when out and about.
  • Drink up! Drink plenty of water, to keep your body – and eyes – hydrated.
  • Give your eyes some much needed downtime by getting enough sleep.
  • Use a humidifier to keep the air, and your eyes, moist.


Top tip

Feast on fish! Omega-3s – healthy fats found in fish oil – might help with dry eyes. Get them from salmon or tuna or, if fish isn’t your dish, try supplements.1

When to see a doctor

Although dry eye is common after LASIK, you should get in touch with your eye doctor immediately if your vision or other symptoms get worse, instead of better, or if you are in severe pain.5

Top tip

Look out for preservative-free eye drops – these can be kinder to dry and scratchy eyes.16

Learn more

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