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Home > Wellness > Health Library > Radial Keratotomy (RK) for Nearsightedness
Radial keratotomy (RK) involves making tiny
cuts in the
cornea, which flatten it and reduce
nearsightedness. In people who have both
astigmatism and nearsightedness, the surgeon may make
additional cuts to flatten the misshapen part of the cornea that is causing the
Because the outcome of surgery on the first eye may
affect how surgery is done on the second eye, many surgeons wait 6 weeks before
treating the second eye. This delay also reduces the risk of spreading a
corneal infection to the second eye. While waiting for the second procedure,
you are usually fitted with a contact lens for the eye that is still
nearsighted, since wearing two very different eyeglass prescriptions causes
RK is an outpatient procedure. It is
local anesthesia in a surgeon's office or a same-day
surgery center. The operation on one eye takes about 10 to 15 minutes. The
entire process usually takes less than 2 hours, including preparation time,
care right after the surgery, and paperwork.
After surgery, you
may wear a patch or contact lens on the eye and get a prescription for pain
medicine. Someone must drive you home and then back to the surgeon's office the
next day. During this second visit, the surgeon will examine your eye and
prescribe eyedrops to prevent infection and reduce inflammation. More follow-up
visits are required, usually the next week and then throughout the first year
Unstable vision is common in the first 3 months after
surgery and may last for up to 1 year. Your vision may vary slightly over the
course of a day (although not to the point that you would need two pairs of
Radial keratotomy is an
elective procedure that is done to correct
nearsightedness in otherwise healthy eyes.
Good candidates for RK have normal, healthy eyes with
stable, mild-to-moderate nearsightedness (up to about 3
diopters) that is not getting worse with time. RK may
also correct some amount of
You may not be eligible for
RK if you have:
RK is effective in reducing mild-to-moderate
nearsightedness. It does not always completely
end nearsightedness. You may still need to wear corrective lenses some of
the time for either near or distance vision (or both) after surgery. People who
have moderate-to-high nearsightedness before surgery are more likely to still
need correction for distance vision after surgery than those who are only
The greatest problems with RK surgery are that
the results are harder to predict and they tend to change
over time. RK reduces nearsightedness, but it often causes mild farsightedness
(overcorrection) or does not completely correct
nearsightedness (undercorrection). Results are sometimes several
diopters different than predicted. In contrast,
eyeglasses and contact lenses are fitted with an accuracy of within 0.5 diopter
of the desired correction.
correction after RK also may be unstable. Most people who have RK surgery
gradually become more
farsighted for at least 8 to 10 years after surgery.
This is called the
The most frequent complications of RK include
overcorrection (farsighted after surgery), undercorrection (still nearsighted
after surgery), and unstable vision (hyperopic shift). Retreatment is
sometimes desired to correct these problems. You may not be able to wear
contact lenses because of the shape of the eye after surgery. This is not the
case with LASIK or PRK.
Complications can occur but are not
common. These include:
A few very rare complications may threaten vision,
Radial keratotomy is considered safe. No deaths have been
reported as a result of the operation. And serious complications are rare. But
experts do not yet know the long-term side effects or
If you are considering having
surgery to improve
nearsightedness, consider all the options
(including radial keratotomy, PRK, LASEK, epi-LASIK, LASIK, corneal
ring implants, and intraocular lens implants), and talk about them with your
doctor. Ask your doctor
the questions that you have about surgery (for example, what are the risks, benefits, and possible outcomes) so that you understand your options and can make the best decision.
PRK, LASEK, epi-LASIK, and LASIK surgery have
replaced radial keratotomy (RK) as the refractive surgeries chosen by most
people. But RK is still very effective for mild nearsightedness (up to 3
diopters) and in other cases. Corneal ring implants
help some people who have low levels of nearsightedness.
If you need another type of eye surgery later in
life, such as cataract removal, the corneal scars from RK may make the
operation and recovery more difficult. RK weakens the cornea, making it more
prone to injury.
The RK surgery is an
elective procedure. The cost of refractive surgery varies
in different locations, but it can be very costly. Most insurance
companies do not cover the cost of refractive surgery.
Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.
June 24, 2011
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Christopher J. Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology
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