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Laser Eye Surgery, Alcohol and Makeup: an Unfavourable Cocktail

When I say the “S” word, most of my patients flinch and are left with a facial expression of utter horror. This, however, is not the crude “S” word which we hurl amidst road-rage, whilst simultaneously prohibiting our children from using it. The “S” word which I am referring to as an eye doctor, is surgery, which for many patients has a meaning coupled with preparation, fasting, pain and a long recovery time. Certainly, surgery is a medical practice which is taken very seriously by all doctors, however when it comes to laser eye surgery, I feel that the last of those 3 words (the “S” word), is somewhat misleading.

In fact, as far as surgery goes, LASIK is not coupled with any of the usual attached meanings of surgery. In fact, pain and recovery time with laser eye surgery are non-existent; the whole procedure with preoperative and postoperative explanations takes an average of 15-20 minutes for both eyes. Added to that, the laser exposure time is only a handful of seconds. Overall, LASIK is a quick and painless procedure which is done with local anaesthetic; we might even use a mild sedative if you feel nervous. Immediately after the procedure, the patient’s vision will be blurred and their eyes will be scratchy for a few hours after treatment. Patients will need someone to drive them home after surgery. 30 minutes later, patients will begin to see well again, and the majority of patients are able to drive the next day and can go back to work within 24 - 48 hours.

So, when I tell my patients about the above reality of LASIK; what happens during the procedure and after the procedure, I can assure them comfortably that pain, preparation, fasting and recovery time are truly minimal.

Cheers! Drink to that! Well... this is where I present the catch.

This brings me to the topic of alcohol, makeup and laser eye surgery.

The truth is that alcohol and surgery never go well together. In fact, alcohol and medicine have never been the best of friends, unless it is an alcohol of the surgical spirits kind. Whilst laser eye surgery is definitely much more flexible than other kinds of surgeries, it is still not a combination I would advocate as a doctor. The reality is that alcohol is a depressant and therefore it slows down the vital bodily functions. When it comes to the eyes, this depressant comes into fruition as eye dryness. Many contact lens wearers would second this fact that alcohol does tend to make eyes feel drier. I spoke earlier about the minor side-effect of LASIK (scratchy eyes after the procedure) so alcohol could certainly exacerbate this. In addition, sleeping under the influence of alcohol, leads to eye rubbing during the sleep and overall poorer sleep. This can include sleeping with a partially open eye which leads to dryness and therefore more irritation and potential eye rubbing. For LASIK, this would hamper the recovery process.

That being said, normal intake of alcohol, although not advisable, is acceptable and not going to cause any harm the night before laser eye surgery. By normal intake, I mean one small glass per night. Overconsumption the night before laser eye surgery is unwise for the above reasons and more importantly, to maintain hydration levels. Dehydration can negatively influence the result of laser surgery. Despite being a more flexible surgery when it comes to preparation, it is still essential that the patient is sober and hydrated before the procedure.

Another precaution involves avoiding wearing anything with a high alcohol content like hair spray, perfume, cologne, or mousse on the day of the procedure. This is because these can affect the transmission of the laser beam. The environment in the laser room is very carefully controlled so that the laser beam travels through the air without bumping into anything on the way to the surface of the eye.

Finally, there is the issue of makeup, which is not harmful (chemically speaking). But, arriving for eye surgery in makeup means that it needs to be removed carefully before the surgery, which means that the whole ordeal will take even longer. Removing makeup after eye surgery is also tricky, because it needs to be completely removed when the patient goes to sleep at night. Makeup is also a big reason why patients tend to rub their eyes, which causes further problems for the healing process. So, for this reason, wearing makeup before or after the surgery is not advisable.

Most eye surgeons will give patients a To Do and Not to Do list, accordingly on my Not to Do list is: limited alcohol the night before and no makeup for a minimum of 6 weeks after the surgery to prevent unnecessary rubbing of the operated eye. The goal is to allow your eye to heal properly without mechanically damaging the laser area.

As my first boss used to say, “the eye is not an organ that is meant to be traumatised, so do not traumatise it, please.”

So, here is my advice: skip the booze before your procedure, lose the make up for a while, and celebrate your new vision with some bubbles and loved ones once you have left the hospital. If you can survive a 6 month lockdown, you can survive those precautions.


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