On Eye Surgery in Korea and Reasons to SMILE

glasses on a rainy day that needs vision correction
glasses on a rainy day that needs vision correction
Pair of glasses on a rainy day outside (Photo by Karl JK Hedin on Unsplash)

If you ask people what they dislike about wearing glasses or contact lenses, it’s as if they have simply been waiting for you to come along so they can list their endless troubles. Constantly wiping off all manner of dust and particles. Odd tan lines and sun freckles. A wayward eyelash that feels like a burning sword. Groping around blindly to remember where you left them. Endless bottles of contact solution. Sore eyes, noses, and ears. And the cost…! When I came to Korea first, I was shocked about how common was eye surgery in Korea.

Eye surgery in Korea could become less daunting

Yet, to suggest eye surgery as a solution to these woes would seem as though you wished to perform an amputation to cure a paper cut. Of course, the name these procedures often go by — such as LASIK, as most people know it — only reinforces the image of a laser beam burning a hole into your eye to “fix” it. However, is eye surgery as scary as it seems? What is it anyway, and how do you know if you’re eligible for it? What kind of eye surgery should you get? This post will answer these questions. We will also shed some light into how eye surgery in Korea is generally conducted. Though it is critical to have a consultation with a trusted medical professional before undergoing this kind of surgery — one that Jivaka Care is here to help you find, as a matter of fact — we hope to make the process of getting eye surgery in Korea less daunting, especially if you’re living abroad.

smiling people at the eye clinic

New generation of eye surgery techniques have faster recovery

Though people tend to refer to corrective eye surgery in a general sense, as if it was one procedure, the truth is that there are three principal types in use today. These are referred to as the different “generations” of procedures, given that techniques and technology have improved over time to make the surgery less painful and the recovery time faster. Still, the original procedure is used, depending on your vision and eye characteristics. The risk of complications is low, with about 1% of patients experiencing problems post-surgery. However, it is important to closely follow the doctor’s instructions to ensure recovery. (Source: Vision Eye Institute)


The first kind of surgery develop to correct vision problems like nearsightedness was “Photo-refractive Keratectomy,” or PRK for short. This procedure is also known as LASEK. As you can see from the image below, PRK is a more invasive procedure that could lead to more discomfort after the surgery, which peels back the top layer of the eye to correct vision and reshape the cornea, with a longer recovery time as the eye cells grow back.(Source: Laser Vue Eye Center)

Classic LASIK for thicker corneas

In contrast, LASIK can be used to treat more moderate eye problems, though patients should have a thick enough cornea to undergo the procedure, which involves a two-step process of cutting with two different lasers. With LASIK, however, patients report a higher incidence of dry eyes as well as potential complications when the “flap” is created on the eye to correct the vision of those suffering from nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism.(Source: Laser Vue Eye Center) With over 16 million people having LASIK since it was first developed, this procedure tends to be what people think of when eye surgery is mentioned. (Source: Vision Eye Institute)

SMILE has the least painful, fastest recovery

SMILE, the “third generation” procedure, is different from the other two in terms of the procedure itself and in the amount of recovery required. Developed in 2012, this procedure has gained popularity because the size of the incision is much smaller and a single laser is used, which makes it less painful and speeds up recovery, though vision correction itself may take up to a day or two after surgery. Currently, only people with nearsightedness can undergo this procedure — farsightedness and astigmatism cannot be treated with SMILE. (Source: Laser Vue Eye Center)

lasek lasik smile procedure in detail

SMILE is 3rd generation of eye surgery procedure

If you are eligible for SMILE, the benefits of this procedure are clear. A recent article on the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health found that even up to a year afterward, the procedure proved to be“effective, predictable, and safe,” with 93% of patients treated in Thailand experiencing vision within ± 0.5 D (Diopters, which stands for the strength of the lens that would be needed to correct your vision). When that scale is expanded slightly to ± 1.0 D, that number increased to 99% of patients who experienced improved vision in this range. In other words, the overwhelming majority had almost perfect vision a year after undergoing SMILE. (Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health) Though the data can vary depending on where it was collected and how the procedure was done, other research reinforces this conclusion that SMILE is safe and effective. (Source: Optometry Times)

You may be convinced about eye surgery, but would you have the procedure done in another country?

Eye surgery abroad, done in Korea

Next, we’ll be posting our next instalment of real stories from foreigners who have experienced the healthcare system abroad. Paul’s story will answer exactly that question to explain why he decided to have SMILE done here in Korea before moving back to the U.S. Tune in on Friday to see how he made his decision, his thoughts on calm waiting rooms and potions, and why he doesn’t regret the “miracle that happens 4,000 times a day here in Seoul.”

Though it may seem scary to put your trust (and your eyes!) in the hands of a doctor who doesn’t speak the same language as you, our experience as care providers and residents in Korea has shown us that eye surgery here is well-worth the anxiety you may feel about getting it done. With well-trained, highly experienced doctors offering the procedure at a much lower price than you can find in places like the U.S., contact us and find out more about your options for eye surgery here in Seoul.

Why wait?

focused view of an eye

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