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Seeing 20/20… LASIK and Sports

Tiger Woods and LeBron James. They are two of the most recognizable and celebrated athletes on the face of the earth. Both have an almost unparalleled ability to dominate their respective sports, are seen worldwide in countless marketing endeavors, and will both be considered two of the greatest athletes of all time. Another thing they share in common? They have both had LASIK eye surgery done. They’re not alone either. Greg Maddux, Amare Stoudemire, Rip Hamilton, and many others are also taking the time to get the procedure done along with 50,000 people in the UK have had laser eye surgery. With so many big name athletes having their vision corrected, you can see a trend beginning to develop within the professional sports world. There are a lot of people who look at getting help with their eyesight from somewhere like and other similar places.

According to a June 2006 Study, approximately 168.5 million residents in the United States, roughly 75% of the population, use some form of vision correction. So chances are you and most of the people you know are wearing glasses or contacts to see properly. With vision being such a critical aspect of every sport, many athletes are considering undergoing the LASIK procedure. Here with us is Cary M. Silverman, M.D., Medical Director of EyeCare 20/20 in New Jersey, to answer some questions about LASIK for us. As a distinguished eye surgeon, Dr. Silverman has been featured in publications such as USA Today, The New York Times, and as a guest ophthalmologist on The Health Network. He has treated a number of professional athletes and is currently correcting the vision of a number of U.S. Winter Olympians prior to the 2010 games in Vancouver.

A Quick Background on the Eye

The cornea is a part of the eye that helps focus light to create an image on the retina. It works in much the same way that the lens of a camera focuses light to create an image on film. The bending and focusing of light is also known as refraction. An imperfection in the focusing power of the eye is called a refractive error.

There are three primary types of refractive errors: myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism. Persons with myopia, or nearsightedness, have more difficulty seeing distant objects as clearly as near objects. Persons with hyperopia, or farsightedness, have more difficulty seeing near objects as clearly as distant objects. Astigmatism is a distortion of the image on the retina caused by irregularities in the cornea or lens of the eye. Combinations of myopia and astigmatism or hyperopia and astigmatism are common.

Glasses or contact lenses are designed to compensate for the eye’s imperfections. In LASIK surgery, precise and controlled removal of corneal tissue by a special laser reshapes the cornea changing its focusing power, ultimately correcting and improving your vision.

Q&A with Dr. Silverman

Can you explain the Lasik procedure to our readers?

LASIK uses a computer-controlled laser to reshape the cornea and correct refractive errors such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. An instrument called a microkeratome is used to create a flap in the corneal tissue. This flap is lifted and folded back. The laser is then used to reshape the cornea by removing or ablating tissue beneath the flap. The excimer laser used in LASIK surgery is a cool, ultraviolet beam that severs the bonds that hold the tissue together. As this tissue is removed, the shape of the cornea is altered. The amount of tissue removed depends on the patient’s eyeglass or contact lens prescription, which is essentially etched into the cornea by the laser. Reshaping the cornea allows light to focus more precisely on the retina for improved vision. The corneal flap is then replaced, requiring no stitches. LASIK surgery takes about 10 minutes per eye, and most people are able to enjoy improved vision without the need for corrective lenses. Laser eye surgeons will be fitted out with protective wear to ensure that the patient remains safe from any infections whilst they’re undergoing surgery on their eye. Surgeons will normally wear an earloop mask to keep the patient safe.

What advantages does Lasik offer over contact lenses or traditional Horace Grant style Rec-Specs?

LASIK affords the patient/ athlete excellent vision without the need for contacts or glasses. No more getting on your hands and knees looking for a lost contact lens on the court or field, as we have seen many times on national TV. LASIK does not protect the eyes from a direct blow as Rec-Specs can, but are certainly more stylish.

How much can you actually improve a patient’s vision with this procedure? How effective is the procedure?

LASIK is able to correct most patients’ entire prescription. 95% of good candidates are able to see 20/25 or better without glasses or contacts.

As a corrective eye surgery, what are the potential risks and drawbacks of having the procedure done? Are there any potential long term side effects?

In contact sports, one of the main drawbacks is the possibility of getting hit in the eye and moving the flap. If this occurs (it is extremely rare) the flap may need to be repositioned. For athletes participating in at risk sports such as boxing, a treatment called epiLASIK may be a better option. This procedure does not involve a flap as the laser ablation is made on the corneal surface. Return of vision is slower with this procedure, but is the only drawback of epiLASIK.

Is this a “one and done” surgery where once you have it, your vision is corrected for life, or is there a chance that you vision can go bad again, requiring another procedure?

LASIK results generally “stick”. There is a 1 to 10% chance of needing a “fine tuning” or enhancement of the original LASIK, depending on the surgeon’s outcomes.

What is considered a “successful” surgery, and what is the success rate of the procedure?

I define a successful procedure as making my patient “20/happy”. These patients are able to wake up, see the alarm clock, watch TV, drive a car, and perform their sports without the need for contacts or glasses. Over 99% of my patients end up “20/happy”!

What criteria should a person consider when they are thinking about having Lasik done?

Getting LASIK is a lifestyle decision. If someone is sick and tired of being reliant on glasses or contacts for day to day activities, they should consider LASIK.

Who makes a good candidate for Lasik surgery? Who doesn’t?

Many factors go into determining LASIK candidacy including stable prescription, corneal curvature, corneal thickness, pupil size, health of the eye, and patient expectations. Most LASIK surgeons offer free LASIK evaluations to determine if a patient is a good candidate.

How about the cost of the surgery? How affordable is it? Is it covered by most insurance policies?

LASIK costs vary from $1500 to $3500 per eye and is not covered by insurance. Many LASIK practices offer 0% financing for up to 2 years. Generally discount prices are offered by corporate centers where the bulk of care is given by technicians or optometrists. Higher priced procedures are generally done by more experienced surgeons who offer cutting edge technologies and more personalized care.

Seeing as how technology is always changing and advances in medicine happen so quickly, do you see any major changes coming in how the procedure is done? Is there any reason for a candidate to wait a few more years before having it done?

Results of LASIK are excellent now. Technologic advances will continue to expand the treatment parameters of LASIK.

Is there anything else you would like to add on the topic? Anything that you think our readers should know or be aware of while considering this procedure?

Do your research and ask friends and family who have had LASIK and are happy with their results for referrals. Shop experience, not price. We are only given 1 pair of eyes, and should not compromise results to save a few dollars. For more information on how to select a LASIK surgeon, visit our blog post: 10 Things to Consider When Picking a LASIK Surgeon:

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