Not Only the Pros Profit from LASIK

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by iEnhance | August 16, 2010 @ 02:00PM

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What do golfer Tiger Woods, Braves' pitcher Greg Maddux, Indy 500 driver Billy Roe, professional wrestler Glen "Kane" Jacobs, and U.S. Olympic swim team member Amy Van Dyke all have in common? They are among the hundreds of professional and Olympic athletes that have undergone laser in situ keratomileusis, or LASIK surgery, to correct their vision. The surgery is ideal for athletes in training because of its quick results and short recovery time. But what has drawn the most attention is the real possibility of significantly improved performance during competition. For some sports, like swimming, the primary gain is an increase in confidence without reliance on lenses. In a sport where margins of victory are measured in hundredths of a second, a slipped contact can be the difference between an Olympic medal or going home empty handed. For other sports, though, the effect can be even more dramatic. As a spokesperson for the center that performed his eye surgery, Woods reports an improved ability to read putts and seeing a larger cup. Although it may be a coincidence, Woods did win the six PGA tournaments he played in immediately following his surgery. Success like this has made LASIK surgery as commonplace in the world of professional sports as personal trainers, sport psychologists, and year-round training programs.

But you don't have to be a professional athlete to improve your sports experience with LASIK surgery. Playing in sports with less hassle, more enjoyment, and maybe even better skill are often goals of everyday patients who undergo the surgery. "Lifestyle issues, like being able to participate in sports without lenses, are common reasons people come to the center," says Dr. Stanley Teplick, a vision surgeon who operates three laser vision centers in Oregon. "It's an issue of freedom."

Even participants in physical activities not always thought of as "sports," such as ballroom dancing and yoga, improve their experiences. Anyone who has tried to participate in something active wearing eyeglasses is familiar with the fogged up lenses that slide down your nose at the worst possible moments. Playing in such weather as rain or snow is a big problem. Glasses under goggles, such as when snow skiing, are a particular annoyance. Contacts can be a solution, but wind, dust, allergies, or a medical inability to wear contacts are just a few of the conditions that can make them a problem. Only through surgery is it possible to leave the glasses or contacts at home permanently.

As with the professional, the short recovery time for LASIK surgery allows an amateur athlete to get back in the game quickly. "Our advice is dependent on the activity, but with many sports, a patient can start immediately after surgery," states Dr. Teplick. "Basically we ask patients to exercise common sense."

Although different surgeons' guidelines will vary, many will allow running within three days of LASIK surgery, swimming within a week, and diving into the water within ten days. Some surgeons recommend wearing a sweatband at first, not to avoid sweat from getting in the eyes, which is not harmful, but to avoid rubbing of the eyes, which is. Safety glasses for contact sports are also suggested for a month, to avoid any trauma to the eye. All in all, recovery can be very fast. Fred Funk, a professional golfer who has undergone the procedure, won the 1999 Kemper Open after having the surgery a mere two days before the opening round of the tournament.

But are the performance gains reported by professionals within the reach of amateurs? If you are myopic, or nearsighted, you could perceive images as larger after the surgery, like Tiger Woods. Of course, few people have the talent, skill, and dedication of Woods to their sport to take advantage of the larger targets. There is no doubt that vision affects athletic performance, but acuity, the aspect of vision that is most altered by LASIK surgery, is but one part of how vision and athletics interact. For example, other aspects of vision, such as peripheral vision and fixation disparity, also have major impact on athletic performance. Finally, vision-motor skills, such as eye-hand-body coordination, visual recognition time, speed of focusing, and visual memory, are also key to optimum performance on the playing field. These other aspects of vision and vision-motor skills are not generally affected by LASIK surgery.

Doctors caution patients to keep their expectations realistic, even in the face of professional athletes reporting 20/20, 20/15, and even 20/10 "super" vision. "Such results are not really a realistic goal for patients, although they do occur," Dr. Teplick said. "Independence from glasses and contacts is a better expectation and the one we ask patients to have." Dr. Teplick went on to explain that the results of surgery are dependent on many variables, most significantly the sight of the person before surgery. At this time, the surgery results cannot be predicted with enough accuracy to allow greater than 20/20 vision to be a realistic goal, although it does happen with some frequency.

In the face of the highly visible positive results of professional athletes, potential athlete-patients should also not forget the possibility of complications, such as blurred vision or nighttime glare that occur in one to five percent of all LASIK patients, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Finally, it remains that some people are not candidates for LASIK surgery at all, most often because of the state of their current eyesight or the size of their pupils. Persons under the age of 21 are also not recommended for the surgery because their eyesight may still be changing. An examination by an experienced, eye care physician is necessary to determine whether a person is a good candidate for the surgery or not.

All of these cautions aside, it remains that LASIK treatment is an excellent means of eliminating the use of lenses for many people. If you would like more detailed information about the LASIK procedure, including how the procedure is performed and other potential advantages and drawbacks to the procedure, please click here. Having LASIK surgery won't turn you into Tiger Woods on the golf course or Amy Van Dyken in the swimming pool, but there is a good chance you will be able to enjoy physical activity without the hassles of eyeglasses or contacts. 

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