If you ever fell while playing basketball and watched your eyeglasses go flying into the air, or cleared the dance floor at a wedding reception so you could hunt for a lost contact, you’ve probably wondered if laser vision correction could spare you future embarrassment.
Advances in laser technology have greatly reduced the risks associated with LASIK and improved outcomes for the vast majority of patients, according to W. Neil Wills, M.D., a board-certified ophthalmologist. Even people with highly active lifestyles and those whose careers demand precise vision are often good candidates for LASIK. Your specific circumstances will determine whether LASIK is an appropriate option for you.
Whether they’re deciphering flight plans, scanning instrument panels, spotting runway hazards or detecting other aircrafts amid cloud cover, an aviator’s vision must be utterly reliable. In the past, pilots who underwent LASIK risked being grounded because the immediate and long-term outcomes of the procedure were still uncertain. A former refractive surgery program manager for the U.S. Navy states that previous concerns about LASIK have been laid to rest. Civilian aeronautical agencies, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and even NASA now allow pilots to undergo LASIK.
With the state-of-the-art technologies now available to LASIK doctors, the risk for serious complications is less than 1 percent. Many of the side effects previously associated with laser vision correction are now uncommon. When problems such as night glare, halos or hazy vision do occur, they are usually temporary or correctable with an enhancement procedure. Prior to proceeding with LASIK, ask your doctor if enhancements are included in the procedure fee. Recognizing that professional aviators cannot return to flight status until their vision has stabilized, Dr. Wills advises pilots — and candidates who are applying for pilot status — to check with their supervisors about waivers, documentation requirements and temporary changes in certification before proceeding with LASIK.
If you’re a civilian pilot, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates that you refrain from flying until your vision has stabilized following LASIK. Once your ophthalmologist determines that you meet FAA vision standards, you can resume flying after submitting documentation to the FAA’s Aerospace Medical Certification Division. Check with your aviation medical examiner to ensure that you are complying with the latest FAA regulations.
Many people with active lifestyles — even elite athletes — are able to enjoy the benefits of LASIK. However, you may need to curtail your activities for several weeks after your procedure. Eye doctors generally advise LASIK patients to stay out of swimming pools and hot tubs for at least a week and to avoid contact sports for at least two weeks after the procedure. If you’re not already wearing protective eye wear during sporting events, your doctor may urge you to make it a permanent habit following LASIK.
The corneal flap created during LASIK can take several months to adhere to the underlying cornea. If you sustain a direct blow to your head or eye during your healing period, the flap could shift out of place. According to Dr. Wills, displaced flaps can be easily repositioned, although this may involve an additional fee. One of the latest advances in LASIK technology involving femtosecond lasers has reduced the likelihood of this occurring. These lasers emit extremely short pulses of light and allow doctors to create flaps that are much less likely to displace than flaps created with older technologies. Still, boxers, cage fighters, martial artists and other athletes who are at high risk for head or eye trauma may want to consider photorefractive keratectomy (PRK). This procedure improves your vision with a series of laser pulses to your cornea, but no flap is created.
LASIK vision correction complements almost any lifestyle. Most people who undergo LASIK experience dramatic improvement in vision. While no medical procedure is perfect, postoperative surveys suggest that more than 90 percent of people who undergo LASIK are satisfied with the results. New technology allows LASIK doctors to provide vision that meets the demands of most athletes and people whose careers require precise vision. Your eye doctor will determine if you are a good candidate for LASIK and help you explore other options, if appropriate.
American Family Physician: LASIK: A Primer for Family Physicians: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0101/p42.html
Email Interview with W. Neil Wills, MD, FACS
American Refractive Surgery Council: LASIK Offers Precise Vision Correction, Convenience for Amateur and Professional Pilots: http://www.slideshare.net/OfficialARSC/lasik-for-pilots
Federal Aviation Administration: Information for Pilots Considering Laser Eye Surgery: http://www.faa.gov/pilots/safety/pilotsafetybrochures/media/lasereye_ii.pdf
Federal Aviation Administration: Pilot Medical Certification: Questions and Answers: http://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/medical_certification/faq/response12/
U.S. Air Force Waiver Guide: Refractive Surgery: http://aviationmedicine.com/resources/files/PDF/VFS_attachments_07/USAF%20Wavier%20Guide%20PDF.pdf
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