New vision-correction alternatives for pilots

 - December 19, 2007, 6:38 AM

Pilots considering vision-correction surgery take note: a recent study by the U.S. Navy shows that custom (also known as wavefront-guided) Lasik is better than traditional Lasik eye surgery.

“We’re finding that wavefront-guided Lasik yields sharper, higher quality vision, along with better patient satisfaction,” said Capt. Steven Schallhorn, M.D, director of cornea and refractive surgery at the U.S. Navy Medical Center in San Diego, who led the study. Wavefront-guided digital technology identifies and measures imperfections in an individual’s eye 25 times more precisely than using standard methods.

Lasik stands for “laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis.” It is a surgical procedure that permanently changes the shape of the cornea, the clear covering of the front of the eye, using an excimer laser.

The study compared results of patients who underwent custom Lasik versus conventional Lasik at the U.S. Navy’s refractive surgery center. Preliminary findings show that three months after the procedure, 94 percent of the 78 patients treated with wavefront-guided Lasik had uncorrected vision of 20/20 or better, compared with 86 percent of the 178 patients who underwent conventional Lasik procedures.

Better yet, the custom Lasik patients in the study did not report experiencing night-driving halos or glare–a serious side effect, and worry, for pilots. Thirty percent of the conventional Lasik patients reported these problems, although most experienced a “satisfactory resolution” after three months.

New Non-surgical Treatment
For those pilots who don’t want to go “under the knife” to achieve better visual acuity, but still want to rid themselves of glasses or contacts, a new non-surgical, non-permanent treatment, recently approved by the FDA, may become an option for them in the future.

Called corneal refractive therapy (CRT), the treatment uses rigid gas-permeable contacts that reshape the eye while worn by the user at night. After the CRT contacts are removed in the morning, the eye maintains its new corrected shape all day.

Patients using this method achieve their “optimal vision” after wearing the night-only contacts for between seven and 15 days. The FDA approved the CRT contacts of a company called Paragon Vision Science for use by individuals with up to -6.00 diopters of myopia with or without astigmatism up to -1.75 diopters.

While an extensive clinical study of the Paragon CRT contact users  showed that 93.3 percent achieved better than 20/32 vision and 67.4 percent achieved 20/20 or better, the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine told AIN that this treatment has not been approved by the agency for aviators, even though it isn’t surgery and is reversible.

Furthermore, an FAA spokesman explained that Paragon CRT contacts do not meet the medical limitation of “must wear corrective lenses.”  So don’t throw out your old glasses or contacts and buy CRT contacts just yet.

But there’s still a glimmer of hope that the FAA might one day give its blessing to this non-surgical treatment for pilots. Remember, the feds initially shunned Lasik, too.