My Laser Eye Surgery Experience in South Korea | ReLex SMILE

After 20 years of wearing glasses everyday I finally got laser eye surgery!

It’s been just over a month since getting the surgery done, and for the first 21 days I had been writing notes in my dairy each day of how my eyes were feeling, so in this post I will share my surgery and recovery experience with you, and I hope it’s helpful for anyone else who is considering laser eye surgery.

The Eye Clinic I Chose

BGN Eye Clinic

I researched many places online before finally deciding on BGN Eye Clinic in Seomyeon – Busan, South Korea. They also have a branch in Gangnam – Seoul but I live closer to Busan so it was the better option for me.

BGN Eye Clinic

I read some good reviews on Naver blogs about this clinic and watched videos on the BGN Eye Clinic YouTube channel. I planned to go for a consultation at two other clinics before deciding but I was pretty impressed with how thorough BGN’s free consultation was, so didn’t bother going to any other clinics after.

Another plus point which has nothing to do with the actual surgery is that BGN Eye Clinic have very comfortable waiting areas, lockers, and their own cafe where you can get drinks for free! (I always got a strawberry smoothie on each visit).

BGN Eye Clinic

They also provide free snacks like those spicy Korean prawn crisps, which was great.

BGN Eye Clinic

BGN Eye Clinic

The Consultation & Eye Test

When I arrived for my consultation, they asked if I need an interpreter and then got one of their English speaking staff to guide me along the way. She was really lovely and answered all my questions honestly and professionally.

I was given a consultation form to fill in for my medical history, then she went through all my answers with me to check if everything is okay and then told me to keep my bag in the locker in the waiting area before going for my eye test.

BGN Eye Clinic

The eye tests were extensive and thorough, lasting roughly 20 mins but it can take up to 2 hours. You can find information on exactly what tests they do on their website: http://en.bgneye.com (English) or http://busan.bgneye.com (Korean)

One important note about the pupil dilation mydratic drops that they use to check the optic nerve and retina for a wider field of view of the back of the eye, is that it can only be done if you are not doing surgery on the same day, as they cannot operate on dilated eyes. I chose to do the surgery on another day so I could do the pupil dilation because I wanted them to thoroughly check the whole of my eye.

After doing all the tests with an opthamologist, I then went to see the doctor for a final slit lamp test and quick chat, then was taken to a small room to discuss the results and possible surgery options with the English speaking staff and opthamologist.

BGN Eye Clinic

They said my cornea thickness and refraction were suitable for all types of surgery so it’s up to me which one I want to go for.

She then gave me a swab kit and told me to rub the swab on my cheek inside my mouth for a minute and then put the swab in a test tube to send for DNA testing to thoroughly check the possibility of genetic abnormalities.

They sent me a text later in the day to say my test results were fine and that they will give me my actual result print out on the day of the surgery to keep for my own records.

She then went through all the surgery options in detail including the prices and answered all my questions. BGN Eye Clinic offer the following vision correction surgeries:

  • Intraocular Lens Implantation
  • LASEK – Laser Fit and Slim Fit
  • Lasik – Slim Fit, Custom and XTRA
  • SMILE – ReLex and Triple
  • Contoura Vision

(You can find details on all these options on their website)

They also offer Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Eye Drops service which is complimentary with Triple SMILE and Contoura SMILE or you can pay for it additionally for 100,000₩ if you choose a different option.

I initially choose the Triple SMILE surgery (2,900,000₩ which they discounted to 2,700,000₩ – you can ask them about discounts as it’s not always available) –
I changed my surgery option on the day of the surgery to the regular ReLex SMILE surgery (2,600,000₩ which they discounted to 2,400,000₩) – I will explain my reasons later in this post. I did like the sound of Contoura SMILE but it’s in the 3mil₩ range and I wanted to stay below that.

I then booked the date of the surgery and paid a 100,000₩ deposit at the reception, and was told that the deposit is non-refundable but I can change the surgery option and date if I want to.

I booked my surgery for 2 days after the eye test and consultation, because the day after was a Wednesday which is when they are closed for machine maintenance.

My Vision Before Surgery

I had short sighted vision (low myopia) with astigmatism and floaters (laser eye surgery cannot fix floaters as they are linked to the retina and not the cornea)

After the thorough eye exam, these were my results:

 

| Refraction | -3.25

(but my eyes sit comfortably with my -2.5 glasses purely because I have been used to wearing them for so many years)

| Astigmatism |-1.75

| Corneal Thickness | 556

| Eye Pressure | Normal

The Day Before the Surgery

So the next day (day before the surgery) I completely freaked out about my surgery option, wondering if I had chosen the right one. I researched like and I sent BGN a message on Kakao Talk with a list of questions, and they replied saying that I will have another quick eye test and mini consultation before the surgery so they will go through my questions at that time and change my treatment option if needed. They weren’t able to answer my questions by message or phone call because they were closed but it was kind of them to reply and reassure me that I can change my option.

My mind was split, I wasn’t sure if I should just brave it and go for LASEK, or get regular ReLex Smile, or Continue with Triple Smile, or pay more than my budget for Contoura Smile, as it’s still way cheaper than the UK.

I probably only got 2-4 hours sleep on and off the night before the surgery, which is quite bad because my eyes were strained, dry and tired.

The Day of the Surgery

On the day of the surgery I felt so tired from the lack of sleep. They tested my vision again then took me to see the surgeon again, and informed me that my results weren’t as good as my initial test because my eyes were strained. They let me know that generally it’s best to operate on fresh eyes that have had enough rest but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem if I want to continue with the surgery that day as they will use the measurements from my initial test anyway.

We then discussed my concerns and the treatment options again, and she also gave me my DNA results to keep. The lady was so friendly and honest, she reassured me that my eyes are fine for any option so it’s completely up to me. She did also mention that my eyes aren’t that dry and my corneal thickness is good so the Triple and Contoura Smile options are procedures I can choose just for the reassurance of corneal strength, or added comfort and personalisation. I also told her how I already have a habit of rubbing my eyes and how I can’t even usually handle my hayfever symptoms in the spring, so she said that as LASEK removes the top layer of the cornea I will have a lot of discomfort without a doubt but it does give fantastic results.

The Procedure I Chose & Why

I thought about it deeply for a while and then finally decided to go for regular ReLex SMILE surgery and also opted for PRP Eye Drops, here’s why:

  • ReLex SMILE seemed to be the best option for me, they make a tiny 1.7mm incision as opposed to 2-4mm incision at other clinics (which is small anyway but I still like the sound of 1.7mm). The surgery recovery period is 24 hours or even less, with minimal to no discomfort.

  • Triple SMILE uses the same ReLex SMILE surgery but with added corneal cross-linking  treatment that will strengthen the cornea,; it’s usually recommended for people with a thin cornea or who are at risk of developing corneal ectasia such as keratoconus so that they can prevent it from occuring, both of which don’t apply to me so I decided not to go for Triple SMILE in the end.
  • Contoura Vision, is the most advanced and personalised treatment but the price was over my budget so I decided not to go for it, although now 1 month after the surgery, I must admit, I’m wondering if I should have gone for this option as it’s still way cheaper than the UK.

  • I can’t handle the thought of having the whole epithelial layer of my cornea removed and then experiencing extremely itchy, scratchy feeling eyes with a lot of pain and longer recover period so I decided not to go for LASEK.
  • I never thought of LASIK as an option for myself, mainly because the 22mm flap doesn’t completely heal over and can get displaced at any stage later in life which I didn’t want to risk, especially as when I have allergic reactions to dust and pollen I rub my eyes like crazy (something I’m trying to stop but it’s risky just incase).
  • PRP eye drops sounded fantastic to me so I knew for sure I wanted to go for this. I previously worked in the stem cell industry so I know the benefits of our own blood, and although these eye drops have nothing to do with stem cells, they do however use platelet rich plasma from the blood, which are full of nutrients and contain growth factors that promote wound healing – the PRP eye drops, which are essentially platelet rich plasma mixed with saline, are also closer to natural tears as opposed to the prescribed artificial tears.

    (I finished my PRP drops in just over a week, and now 1 month later, I’m tempted to get them made again because the artificial tears that they prescribed just don’t give the same refreshed feeling.)

BGN Eye clinic do not offer a finance plan so you have to pay the full amount before the surgery. I paid the remainder of the full amount (minus the deposit), for ReLex SMILE and PRP Eye Drops at the reception, and they also gave me a prescription for steroid eye drops, antibiotic eye drops, artificial tears and painkillers.

They then took me up to the floor where they do the surgeries. I sat in the waiting area and the lady went through the aftercare advice with me and told my boyfriend to go to the pharmacy to get my medicine while I’m in the theater (operating room).

Before I go on to talk about the actual surgery experience and post surgery recovery, I will list the aftercare advice I was given as well as my prescribed medication.

Prescribed Medication

Eye drops

 

(apply each eye drop 1-5 minutes apart in any order, to allow absorption)

  • Vigamox Eye Drops (antibiotic) – apply 1 drop every 2 hours on the day of the surgery, then 4 times a day from the day after the surgery until they finish.
  • Full Eyelon Eye Drops (steroid) – apply 1 drop every 2 hours on the day of the surgery, then 4 times a day from the day after the surgery until they finish.
  • Hyaluron Eye Drops (artificial tears) – apply 1 drop every 10-20 minutes on the day of the surgery, then apply regulary according to dryness of your eyes for 3-6 months.

Simply Saima PRP Eye Drops

  • PRP Eye Drops – apply 1 drop 4-6 times a day for 1 week. Keep refrigerated and throw away after 1 week even if there is some remaining as it goes off quickly.
  • Tylenol (Painkiller) – Take only if needed.

Aftercare Advice

Post Operative Symptoms

  • Might feel dizzy after surgery, so best to return home straight away.
  • For 4-5 hours after surgery, eyes may feel sore, become watery and irritated when opening the eyes – do not rub or squeeze eyes, just gentle dab tears running down your cheek.
  • Might experience headache after the surgery – take a painkiller if it is severe.
  • In rare cases, your eyes may be bloodshot after the surgery, but this will disappear on its own and your vision will not be affected.

Post Operative Precautions

  • You can wash you face and wear face makeup the next day, but eye makeup should not be worn until 1 week after surgery.
  • You can wash your hair the next day but make sure not even a little water gets into your eyes for 1-2 weeks.
  • Avoid the following for a week: – vigorous and sweat inducing exercise, ball games, perming or dying hair, public bathhouses, saunas and jjimjilbangs.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine for 1 week to 1 month, as they cause dryness.
  • Avoid smoking if you can, as it may cause dryness.
  • Avoid or limit screen time, such as watching TV or using computer or smartphone – prolonged use can cause eye strain and dryness as when focusing on screens we blink less.
  • Do not close your eyes tightly or rub them for about 2 weeks.

Post Operative Follow-up Schedule

Surgery > Next day > After 1 week > After 3 months

My Surgery Experience

Before going in for the surgery, a nurse came and took me to a room to draw blood from my arm for the PRP Eye Drops. She then quickly went away to extract whats needed and came back with my eye drops in a sealed bag with an ice pack and told me to use it 4-6 times a day within 7 days and keep it in the fridge as it can go off quickly.

A theater nurse came and took me to the theater. She told me to take my shoes off in Korean, but she did also try to speak English mixed with Korean when confirming my name to make sure I’m the correct patient. She then put a scrub gown on for me and a theater cap, then sterilied the skin around my eyes and told me not to touch my face. I told her the side of my nose was itchy in broken Korean and she  helped me scratch it with the sterilised sponge. She then took me into a waiting room and put numbing eye drops in my eyes.

After a minute she guided me to the operating room which looked really bright and clean, with a sci-fi / space station vibe. I lay down on the operating table, they confirmed my name again and put 2 types of eyes drops in my eyes again, one didn’t go in properly so I told them and they did it again.

Strangely enough I wasn’t nervous at this point about the actual surgery, I guess the only thought running through my head was “what if I need to blink?” The surgeon came and told me to focus on not blinking and just look straight ahead, I asked him if he can help keep my eye open, he laughed and said he can’t and that it’s my job to stay calm and keep them open. I laughed and said I will try my best.

He then aligned my eye to the laser machine so that I could see the green light and told me to focus on looking straight at that light. He proceeded to place a metal speculum to clamp my eyelids wide open – I’ll admit this was the uncomfortable, not the speculum itself, but trying not to blink at this stage – I felt like my eye was shaking and twitching all over the place , but eventually in like a few seconds once I figured out how to stay still and focus on the green light ahead, my eye calmed down and I was ready.

I remember the machine lightly pressing down onto my eye creating some sort of a suction but I couldn’t feel much of it – The machine said “suction on”, and a 21 second countdown began- the surgeon told me to focus on the green light and at each stage of the countdown he told me what is happening “no more green light, just darkness, keep looking at the same position” …. “now your vision is cloudy, laser finished” – The machine then said “suction off” and he removed the metal speculum, placing it on my other eye and proceeded with the same thing for another 21 seconds, then very quickly the laser stage was over.

He then wheeled the operating table away from the machine and began the actual surgery by hand on the eye with the speculum still in place. This part was such a strange experience, I couldn’t feel any pain but just a gentle stroking and I could see everything he was doing. He first inserted a thin metal tool into my cornea and moved it around creating a lenticule, he then dragged the small lenticule he created towards the incision and used a pincer to remove it; my vision instantly changed from cloudy to clear. He then used some sort of sponge tip tool and smoothed over my eye in gentle strokes which made me laugh because it felt so strange, then finally he used some sort of water jet over my eye and honestly I hated this the most, probably more than the metal speculum. He then removed the speculum and placed it on my other eye to do the surgery (by this time I had gotten used to dealing with the speculum so I didn’t blink). I could actually feel more on this eye than the other, just slightly uncomfortable but no pain at all. I told him about this and he said it’s normal as long as there’s no pain.

Before I knew it, the operation was over. The prep probably took 10 mins, laser 21 seconds on each eye, and surgery felt like 2-5 mins on each eye – so a total of approximately 15 mins for both eyes from start to finish. It all happened so quickly and didn’t actually even feel like 15 mins.

The surgeon said I did well and congratulated me. The nurse then helped me sit up and I was surprised that I could actually see clearly straight away and felt completely fine. She guided me to the recovery room which was quite dark with dim lights and told me to keep my eyes closed for 10 mins.

My Recovery Experience

| Day 1 (Surgery Day) |

I started getting a headache 5 mins after the surgery while I was in the recovery room. When the nurse came to get me I told her in broken Korean that I have a headache, she asked if it is severe or just slight and I said it’s not too painful so she said I should take Tylenol (painkiller) and that it’s okay to go home straight away and rest.

I should have gone to see the doctor but the nurses and reception staff said there’s no need. I asked for eye googles to protect my eyes while sleeping and was told it’s not necessary for ReLex Smile as the incision is small, so I told her that I generally have a habit of rubbing my eyes so she gave me a pair just in case.

When I went outside my face felt cold and tingly but my eyes were fine. I didn’t have any pain in my eyes and my eyes were not watering at all. While on the train home I got a phone call from the English speaking staff who was supporting me through the whole process; she said I was supposed to see the doctor so he can do a quick check of my eyes. I told her the nurses said I should just go home and take a a painkiller for my headache, so she said okay and I continued my journey. Then about 30 mins later, once I got on the bus that takes me to the city I live in, she called me again and asked if I can go back to see the doctor especially because I have a headache. I told her I’m already on the bus so it’s too late but my headache was also not as bad as before so she said okay just contact if there’s any problems and they will check my eyes tomorrow at my follow up appointment.

When I got home, I was fine but I had an insane headache, worse than before, especially while lying down. It was difficult to sleep because of this. I kept putting in the eye drops but my eyes luckily not scratchy at all, just dry and sensitive.

I could already read way better than without glasses but not as good as when I did wear glasses before the surgery. My vision was blurry, especially night vision and I couldn’t focus well on details and things that are close to me (which I could do perfectly before the surgery).

I had a Vitamin C drink and took some cod liver oil and then rested my eyes.

I also took a Tylenol before trying to sleep.

| Day 2 |

My vision was the same as the day before with maybe just a slight improvement and I still had a headache, but I’m happy so far. I used the prescribed eye drops and then went to BGN for a quick follow up to check my vision.

I was told that I can now read 20/20 but it is still blurry and will continue to be blurry for a week to a month until my eyes stabilize. I waited to see the doctor who said everything is fine with my whole eye and the headache is unrelated to the actual surgery but it could be because of stress and lack of sleep that came after the surgery. I scheduled my 1 week follow-up and then went home.

Later in the day, my left eye started twitching slightly and I had a slight ache in my ear in jaw but it didn’t last long.

I overdid it with phone screen use so headache started again. I made sure to keep putting in eye drops.

| Day 3 |

Its difficult to see small and medium letters like when I wore glasses before
And things are slightly blurry I can’t focus but I can see people’s face features which I couldn’t before and last point my eyes are a lot dryer than day 1 and 2 and my right eye has eye strain. so bit painful.

| Day 4 |

Last night I looked at my phone a bit too much but I put eye drops so while I’m sleeping I could feel I had eyestrain and headache , now In the morning I woken up I still can’t focus well my eye sight is not good as yesterday. In the dark it seems like my eyes something is fleshing.

| Day 5 |

My eyes still can’t focus but they feel better than yesterday. I researched and drafted blog posts for 2-4 hours today. My eyes feel fine but dry so I keep using my eye drop but at one point I put too much steroid and antibiotic eye drops so, a lot of it went through my tear duct and I could taste it. I started getting a headache and pressure at the back of my head so I’m worried that I might have increased my eye pressure by mistake because of the overdose.

| Day 6 |

I woke up with the same pressure and headache. Stuffy and heavy feeling around my sinuses. I can’t focus on things – it’s blurry and uncomfortable. I keep getting the feeling that I need my glasses and also my eyes were stinging when I use medicated eye drops. On the plus side, my eyes haven’t had excessive tears and I haven’t had a foreign body sensation, my usual yearly hay-fever symptoms are way worse than this.

| Day 7 |

I experienced a sudden moment of pitch black then back to normal as if all lights went out for 1-2 seconds. Not sure if it was my eyes of actually just the lights in my house.

| Day 8 |

I went for my 1 week follow-up – The staff said the blurry vision is normal and most people have the same problem in the first few weeks. 2-3 weeks later it will get better and continue to get better over the next few months. After checking my eyes, I was told everything is fine.

Doctor said my eyes are not as dry as other people and I don’t need to worry about putting in too much steroid and antibiotic eye drops by mistake as most of it drips out of my eye anyway. She said the reason for my headache is probably because my eyes are dry because the pressure test shows my eye pressure to be completely fine and normal so nothing to worry about.

| Day 9 |

My vision is pretty bad today – feel like I cant focus and have dark circles like crazy. My PRP eye drops finished today, I want to get more 😦

| Day 10 |

My right eye is not as good as my left eye. Also I rubbed my right eye while sleeping by mistake.

| Day 11 |

Rubbed my left eye by mistake so a bit worried. Vision still the same.

| Day 12 |

Blurry vision again. Is it because I rubbed my eyes?

| Day 13 |

Still blurry, headache and heavy eyes – difficult to focus – feel cross eyed when closing eyes – possible eye strain from working on laptop in the dark – left eye is way better than the right.

| Day 15 |

Things are still blurry – I finally wore makeup today, but I’m thinking it was too soon for eye makeup because my eyes feel irritated from the eyeshadow particles.

| Day 16 |

Went out with friends at night – eyes dry and straining so I had to keep applying eye drops. My vision isn’t that bad at night, no halos or star burts.

| Day 21 |

It’s officially 3 weeks post surgery and I still have quite a bit of eye strain. my vision keeps fluctuating and is pretty blurry when trying to read things, especially on my laptop. My right eye is particularly blurry and slightly itchy. I worry that I might have worked too much on my laptop in the dark over the past few days but I’m hoping I haven’t ruined my chances of perfect vision recovery.

Update: At the time of posting, it is now around 5 weeks post surgery and my eyes are still generally the same as day 21, however I have noticed that my vision seems better if I have had good sleep and also when I’m outside, with bright daylight and at night I can read signs that have been lit up really well. If there is no light, I really can’t read anything. Another thing I noticed is that I can see a lot more floaters than before, but as floaters are to do with the retina and not the cornea, there’s nothing that can be done about it under my treatment plan at BGN.

I have my 3 month follow-up appointment booked for 11th February 2019, where they will check my vision and let me know if I need enhancement surgery or not. – I’ll update you on my progress at that time.

If you have any questions or have your own experience with laser eye surgery, I’d love to hear about it so please leave me a comment 🙂

– Saima –

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s