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Six-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller is one athlete in Sochi experiencing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. After finishing eighth in the men’s downhill skiing competition recently, he expressed regret over not getting LASIK eye surgery prior to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.
According to USA Today, Miller was going to get laser vision correction before the games, but “just never found a time to do it because the race schedule was so tight.
“Cloud cover created a flat-light condition for the downhill competition. This condition made it harder to read the upcoming terrain, especially at high speeds.”
“When the light’s perfect, I can ski with any of the best guys in the world,” says Miller. “When it goes out, my particular style suffers.”
Miller’s comments about impaired vision impacting his performance, interpreted by some as an excuse, beg a question.
Would Bode Miller, one of the most successful alpine skiers in American history, have performed better after getting LASIK treatment?
Miller’s final downhill training run, and his performance since the event, supports his assumption. Miller was the fastest skier prior to his official downhill performance and he tied for a bronze medal in the Super-G competition – both of these performances took place during much clearer conditions than the downhill event.
Miller’s bronze medal means he has earned the second-highest number of Olympic medals for a male ski racer and tied for the second highest among U.S. Winter Olympians in any sport. These accomplishments are unprecedented. But his vision problem, and the impact it’s had on his active lifestyle, is far from unique unfortunately.
“Miller is one of the more than 11 million Americans experiencing vision problems due to refractive errors,” says Sally Thompson, M.D., a LASIK surgeon based in Salt Lake City, UT.
The most common refractive errors, nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, are caused by light not bending — or refracting — correctly as it hits the eye. This prevents a patient’s eyes from focusing light from nearby objects or distant surroundings into sharp images.
“Better visual acuity is a benefit of LASIK surgery,” says Dr. Thompson. “Some patients notice an immediate improvement in their vision and report seeing details more clearly after the eye surgery. But the outcome of LASIK eye surgery can vary from patient to patient. This is because each patient’s eyes are shaped differently and they can also heal differently.”
Cold, wintery weather conditions can also impact the eyesight of anyone engaging in outdoor activities.
“The dry winter air evaporates the moisture in your eyes more quickly than it does in humid summer air,” says Dr. Thompson. “This reduces the production of tears, which help keep your eyes moist. This time of year, it’s common to experience dryness, or a burning, itching sensation in your eyes — even more so for individuals wearing contacts. Avoiding this potential eye irritation and getting clear vision is something from which anyone can benefit.”
Beyond physical discomfort, a more esoteric element to consider is the impact an athlete’s mental state can have on sports performance. In fact, a study from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center suggests LASIK surgery can improve a patient’s self-esteem, optimism and other psychological functions.
“We have certainly seen the mood of a LASIK patient improve with an improvement in his vision,” says Dr. Thompson.
It’s impossible to determine whether or not LASIK would have improved Miller’s performance. His hard-earned accomplishments make him a living legend, even if he regrets choosing to postpone his LASIK eye surgery.
But no one suffering from a refractive error has to risk similar regret and frustration. By researching LASIK surgery, and consulting with a qualified LASIK doctor, she can take steps to improve her vision and she will experience the benefits it can bring to her life.
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