Getting LASEK Eye Surgery in Seoul
“But I love you with glasses!” My husband exclaimed.
“I know, but I’m so tired of always making sure I have them with me and paying hundreds of dollars for a new prescription. In the long run, we’ll end up saving money.”
We only had a few months left living in Seoul and I decided that it was time to finally take the plunge and get laser eye surgery to fix my myopia. Not only was it a fraction of price than in the US, I knew my eyes were in reliable hands. South Korean healthcare is consistently rated among the highest in the world and was ranked the fourth most efficient healthcare system by Bloombergin 2017.
Eyemedi Vision Center
After doing some research and reaching out to a few clinics and friends, I decided to get a LASEK procedure at the Eyemedi Vision Center. If I was going to put my eyesight into someone else’s hands, I wanted to go somewhere that was professional, trustworthy, and experienced. The center has performed over 50,000 eye surgeries and stays current with the latest technology. I also had a couple of friends who had gotten their vision corrected at Eyemedi and were pleased with the outcome.
Another bonus: Eyemedi caters to many expats and foreigners so the staff speaks English well. Setting up a consultation was simple. All I had to do was Facebook Messenger the center. I was put in touch with a Dr. Young Jin Choo who answered all my questions, texted directions, and set up a consultation. The center is conveniently located in the heart of swanky Gangnam, a few steps away from the subway station and across the street from bus stops.
Eye exam area
My consultation with Eyemedi is what sold me ? the process was thorough and I received very personalized attention. It doesn’t feel like a factory that rushes patients. When I got to the office, I was met by Dr. Choo who I had been in correspondence via Facebook Messenger. I filled out some paperwork and spent the next two hours doing a series of eye exams to determine my eye health. In addition to assessing my range of sight, the exam checked the surface of my eye, corneal thickness, pressure, optic nerve, and eye dryness.
After my first round of tests, Dr. Choo reviewed the results with me in his office and explained I was a prime candidate for LASEK. Surprisingly, I had thick corneas and other than mild dryness, my eyes were in good condition. The procedure would permanently correct my nearsightedness and astigmatisms. He noted that while laser surgeries correct the shape of the eye, they cannot prevent patients from developing age-related conditions like presbyopia.
Dr. Choo explained in detail how LASEK worked, what to expect, and the risks involved. I next repeated the eye exams with a different specialist for good measure and then met with my surgeon, Dr. Lee, who would perform my procedure. He took a scan of my eyes and offered to clarify any questions. Eyemedi often grants candidates who qualify for LASEK the option of having surgery the same day, but I opted to put down a deposit and schedule mine later since I had an upcoming trip. When my consultation was over, Dr. Choo escorted me to the elevator (he does at the end of every visit) to personally say goodbye and address any concerns. He also always texts me before and after all my visits to check on my progress.
At the time of writing, the cost of Eyemedi’s LASEK surgery for two eyes ranges between $1,400-$1,900 USD depending on the exchange rate and scope of the surgery. Payments can be made in installments and are tax-free.
LASEK vs LASIK
The procedure is a bit different than LASIK which is the most popular method performed in the United States. In LASEK, the ultra-thin outer layer of the cornea, known as the “epithelium,” is removed using a very fine blade called a trephine instead of the microkeratome one used in LASIK. The surgeon then covers the eye with an alcohol solution for around 30 seconds to loosen the edges of the epithelium. The surgeon lifts the edge of the epithelial flap and folds it back similar to LASIK. A laser reshapes the corneal tissue underneath and the epithelial flap is placed back on the eye along with a clear bandage contact lens that is worn for 4-7 days.
People with thinner corneas and dryer eyes qualify more for LASEK because less of the epithelium is removed, whereas LASIK cuts deeper into the stromal tissues layer. Though my corneas turned out to be thicker than average, I still opted for LASEK due to my active lifestyle. With adventure travel and Zumba instruction, there’s no chance of complications caused by a flap dislodging from trauma with LASEK.
However, the recovery time for LASEK is longer than LASIK. You can still see after the surgery, but eyes need around 3 days to heal before returning to work. By then, eyesight is usually 60% better. Vision from either operation tends to fluctuate for the next two months as the eyes heal. After LASEK, vision starts to stabilize after 1-2 weeks, whereas LASIK may take 24-72 hours (with chances of occasional blurriness over the next month). Click here to see a comparison chart between the two surgeries.≫
Pre-surgery with Dr. Lee
I was at Eyemedi for close to two hours the day of the surgery even though the procedure itself took less than 10 minutes. We started by doing a final, thorough eye exam to triple-check my prescription. I was given a printout explaining the procedure and healing process in detail and another outlining what to do post-surgery with my prescription eyedrops.
I was eventually brought into a pre-op room where a nurse steadily gave me numbing drops for 10 minutes. She also took some of my blood to create PRP eye drops from my platelets to help speed the healing process. I’m probably in the minority, but I was never freaked out by the prospect of surgery. Rather, I was excited to correct my vision and didn’t have any pangs of anxiety. If you do feel nervous, I would suggest taking deep breaths or meditating in the pre-op room.
I was then lead to the operation room and laid back to witness the glory of laser technology. It sounds a little Clockwork Orange, but my eyes were kept open using a thin wire device so I couldn’t blink. The doctor worked on one eye at a time. A machine was placed in front of my face that shone a series of green and red lights. He directed which color to focus on throughout the operation. It all looked pretty trippy and focusing on the dots was a nice distraction. The lights went blurry when my epithelium was removed. When they started using the laser, it emitted a metallic scent of burning hair which was weird, but I never felt any pain whatsoever. The most uncomfortable part was the minute afterward when cold air was gently blown on my eyes to keep them numb.
The surgery was over quickly and I returned to the pre-op room where for 10 minutes after a nurse gave me more eye drops. I was released to my husband in the waiting area and instructed to stay another 30 minutes in case of unexpected complications or pain. I was surprised by how much I could already see, I thought I was going to be close to blind but wasn’t at all. Instead, I’d compare it to the bleary-eyed sensation from swimming in a chlorine pool too long. Remember to bring sunglasses (sans prescription) to protect eyes from light sensitivity when you leave.
Procedure and prescription explanations
I had my surgery on a Friday and went for a check-up the next morning (yes, Eyemedi is open on Saturdays). I was warned the first three days after the operation were the toughest. I stayed inside to avoid harsh UV rays and air pollution, passing the time listening to audio books and watching a little television. As predicted, the third day was the toughest, but not excruciating (for me anyway, recovery varies). On that day, it occasionally felt like there was dust or pollen stuck in my eyes which was alleviated by keeping them closed.
I was given a few vials of emergency numbing drops but fortunately, never have to use them. For the first two weeks, I did have to keep a steady 45-minute timer running on my iPhone to remind me to administer my prescription drops throughout the day. I experienced some dryness after the bandage lenses were removed later the first week, but the discomfort was minimal thanks to the lubricating tear drops.
While the epithelium is healing for the first 14 days, patients should also avoid rubbing their eyes. Furthermore, it’s important to keep eyes protected from sweat, makeup, water, and soap, so I avoided the gym the first week and always wore sunglasses outside.
If a patient leaves Korea the week following the operation, Dr. Choo advises getting check-ups at another LASEK center or eye specialist at home. He recommends using the prescribed steroid eye drops for a minimum of three months after the operation, and to have a specialist monitor eye health and pressure once a month for three to four months after surgery.
Being a graphic designer means seeing onscreen details are important and it was a bit difficult working on the computer the first couple of weeks after LASEK ? my nearsighted vision was more blurry than my farsightedness. I learned that the surgery overcompensates for your prescription, so your range is reversed while healing. The strain sometimes caused light headaches if I didn’t take frequent breaks and my vision was noticeably cloudier by the end of the day. Thankfully, it vastly balanced out after 15 days and three weeks after the surgery, I was already traveling to Japan, amazed by how easy it was to read street signs without assistance.
By the end of the first month, my nearsightedness was still slightly fuzzy when reading tiny type on bottle labels, but it improved day by day and is no longer a problem.
It’s been over two months now, my eyesight has stabilized, and I am thrilled with the outcome. Everyone I’ve talked to who underwent laser eye surgery has unanimously said “It was the best money I’ve ever spent,” and I concur. I’ve gone from being unable to watch TV or drive without glasses to seeing sharper than 20/20.
I would recommend laser eye surgery to qualified candidates, yet strongly caution to do homework. Quality and experience should trump price. Referrals are valuable too ? having friends who had already gone to Eyemedi to vouch for its service helped me feel more secure in my decision. Your eyesight is important, so make sure you choose a reputable doctor who you trust.
Have you had a procedure done abroad or have questions about LASEK? Leave your comments below.
The content on this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Opinions are all my own, Eyemedi Vision Center did not compensate En Route Traveler for this review.
Lara was infected with the travel bug at an early age. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of discovering the world. She relocated to Seoul, South Korea, for her husband’s job and hopes to explore much of Asia while there. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance graphic designer. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, paints, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, practices yoga, dabbles in photography, and of course, travels as much as possible. like and share: