What to Expect from Superficial Keratectomy

Medically Reviewed By Katherine E. Duncan, MD

A superficial keratectomy is when a surgeon removes the outer layer of the eye’s cornea. This can help improve vision and discomfort if you have a damaged cornea. The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped tissue that covers the iris and pupil. There are multiple layers in the cornea, and a superficial keratectomy only removes the outermost layers.

Superficial keratectomy can be a quick outpatient procedure that has long-term benefits for eye health. However, as with any procedure, it carries risks, and the outcome can vary per person.

Read on to learn more about superficial keratectomy, including the procedure, recovery, and outlook.

What is a superficial keratectomy for?

A clinician applies eye drops into someones open eyes.
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Doctors may recommend a superficial keratectomy if the surface of the cornea is rough or irregular. This may happen due to:

  • corneal injury or scarring
  • recurrent corneal erosion syndrome, a condition occurring when the cornea’s outer layer breaks down
  • corneal dystrophy Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , a buildup of debris causes the cornea to blur over
  • foreign bodies in the eye
  • degenerative eye conditions

Sometimes, doctors may use a keratectomy to take a sample of tissue to help them diagnose an eye condition.

How do you prepare for a superficial keratectomy?

Your medical team will let you know how to prepare for a superficial keratectomy. They may ask you to follow steps such as:

  • reviewing your medical history with them
  • letting them know what medications or supplements you use, including over-the-counter products
  • pausing the use of certain medications, such as blood-thinning medications, before your procedure
  • arranging for travel after the procedure
  • not wearing eye makeup on the day of the procedure

Talk with your medical team if you have questions before a superficial keratectomy or about how to prepare.

What is the procedure for a superficial keratectomy?

Eye doctors can perform Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a superficial keratectomy in their usual eye clinic using a slit lamp or in an operating theater using a microscope.

They will then perform a superficial keratectomy in the following steps:

  1. Your medical team provides pain relief medications, such as local anesthetic ointments or injections.
  2. Then, they clean the eye area with an iodine solution and use a device called a speculum to keep the eyelids open.
  3. A member of your medical team wipes away the outermost layers of the cornea.
  4. At this point, they may take further steps to clear away any persistent problems with the cornea. For example, they will remove any corneal lesions or another layer of the cornea called Bowman’s layer.
  5. Your medical team may then apply medications to the eye to help recovery and prevent complications. For example, mitomycin C (Mitosol) medications can help prevent scarring.
  6. Finally, your medical team places a special contact lens in the eye for protection.

Superficial keratectomies are usually outpatient procedures, meaning you do not have to stay overnight. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), the procedure itself may take around 30 minutes, although you may have to wait in a recovery room afterward.

What can I expect during recovery from superficial keratectomy?

After your procedure, your medical team may give you medications such as Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • artificial tears, to improve comfort and protect against dry eyes
  • antibiotic eye drops, to protect against infection
  • cycloplegic drops, to help the eye muscles relax
  • corticosteroid eye drops, to reduce inflammation
  • pain relievers, which may include over-the-counter or prescription options

Your medical team will tell you how to care for your eye during recovery. They will also let you know when to come back for a checkup appointment. A checkup usually happens within the first week after the procedure.

During recovery, you may need to take time off work or school or pause certain activities, such as driving. This can vary per person. You can talk with your medical team for personalized advice.

Side effects

Mild symptoms like soreness or pain are expected during the first several days of recovery. Talk with your doctor if you have symptoms that feel severe, concerning, or do not improve.

Also, contact your medical team as soon as possible if you notice any signs of eye infection, such as:

Read more about eye infection symptoms and when to contact a doctor.

What is the outlook of superficial keratectomy?

Experts Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source generally consider superficial keratectomy to be safe. The procedure may help alleviate eye problems and improve vision, such as by reducing blurriness.

A 2018 study suggests that superficial keratectomy can help improve visual acuity, or how well you see at a given distance.

However, your overall outlook and how much superficial keratectomy improves your vision may depend on personal factors, such as the type or severity of the corneal problem you have.

How quickly you experience improvements in your eye condition after the procedure can also vary.

Talk with your medical team for advice about your outlook and what you can expect.

Are there any risks to superficial keratectomy?

As with any procedure, superficial keratectomy does have some risks Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

Possible risks and complications of superficial keratectomy include:

  • infection, such as herpetic keratitis
  • subepithelial haze or cloudiness of the cornea, which can be temporary
  • delayed healing
  • recurrent corneal epithelial erosion, a breakdown of the cornea’s outer layer
  • corneal infiltration, an inflammatory cell buildup in the cornea

Following your medical team’s advice for preparation and recovery may help reduce the risk of complications.

Talk with a doctor if you have any questions about the risks of superficial keratectomy.


A superficial keratectomy is a procedure to remove the outermost layers of the eye’s cornea. Doctors may recommend superficial keratectomy if you have corneal problems such as scarring or dystrophy.

The procedure itself is quick and is generally considered safe. After recovering from your procedure, you may experience clearer vision or fewer eye symptoms from your eye condition.

However, as with any medical procedure, superficial keratectomies can have risks, and the outlook may vary per person.

Talk with an eye doctor if you have any questions about superficial keratectomy.

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Medical Reviewer: Katherine E. Duncan, MD
Last Review Date: 2024 May 17
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