LASIK surgery may concern those of us who live here in Colorado as well as many others who are active at a high altitude. According to the experts and research, the dangers associated with having laser eye surgery (LASIK or PRK), is no greater at high altitude than it is at sea level. Although laser eye surgery has been found to be safe at high altitudes, the predecessor, RK (radial keratotomy) has not. RK uses a blade to make a series of incisions into the cornea to flatten the front surface. This is similar to LASIK or PRK. However, the RK incision affects 80% of the cornea. LASIK or PRK only affects the front 20% of the cornea. RK is not used as often today as many patients have had side effects ranging from seeing their incisions at night while driving, to changes in their vision at varying altitudes. While ascending Mt. Everest in 1996, Dr. Beck Weather’s vision decreased so much, he was forced to cease his climb. Continuing his ascent with this loss of vision may certainly have resulted in his death. Years prior to the climb Dr. Weather’s vision had been corrected with RK surgery. Several studies have found that climbers who have had laser refractive surgery (LASIK or PRK) did not have the same loss of vision as mountaineers who had the RK surgery.

There are many different eye problems associated with living at a higher elevation. Individuals who live at high altitudes experience more difficulties with dry eye. These conditions can be even more problematic when a person is a contact lens wearer. Although there are extensive advances in contact lenses, high elevation living can limit the usage of these lenses. Many experts believe it is more beneficial to those living at higher elevations to have LASIK or PRK surgery rather than continue to wear corrective lenses. Such lens usage could cause excessive dryness or constant swelling of the cornea.

In conclusion, refractive surgery has proven to be successful and is recommended for lifestyles at high elevations. Contact your eye care professional to see if you are an eligible candidate for LASIK or PRK.


Author: Dr. Timothy Bauer

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