LASIK Surgery for Pilots: Is It Allowed?

LASIK Surgery for Pilots: Is It Allowed?When LASIK surgery first became available, pilots were not allowed to undergo the procedure. Pilots rely largely on their vision to be able to successfully navigate and fly through the skies. As LASIK procedures have become more common and as techniques have evolved, pilots can now undergo LASIK surgery. However, as with any decision that impacts the eyes, a careful decision must be made, especially for a pilot.

Risks of LASIK for Pilots
For many the benefits of LASIK surgery outweigh the risks, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential risks with LASIK surgery. Since pilots must meet minimum vision standards to retain employment, protecting their eyes is paramount. This increases the risks of LASIK surgery for pilots. Scarring or other potential adverse effects could potentially impact employment and lifestyle.

Some of the risks of LASIK surgery include:

  • Corneal Scarring- The cornea is a transparent coating that forms the front of the eye. It can be scarred or distorted by disease, injury, infection and potentially LASIK surgery. Corneal scarring can interfere with light entering the eye and can cause permanent vision problems that are not compatible with flying a plane.
  • Worsening of Vision- Pilots must meet certain vision standards in order to fly a plane. One potential adverse effect of LASIK is worsening vision or vision that is inconsistent. This can impact a pilot’s ability to fly. The long term results of LASIK are relatively unknown, making this surgery a riskier choice for pilots just starting their career.
  • Night Glare- Glare and halos are sometimes reported after a LASIK procedure, especially in the early days. Since a pilot needs good vision during both daylight and nighttime hours this can be a big problem.

Pilots must carefully consider the risks of LASIK surgery and determine if the potential benefits of the procedure outweigh the risks. Pilots may also want to discuss their unique situation with their eye doctor to find out if LASIK is an ideal choice for someone in their career field.

Minimizing the Risks
While there are some serious risks to LASIK surgery, there are ways to minimize some of these risks. For example some medications may impact the ability of the eyes to heal. Talk with your doctor about any medications you may be taking to ensure that they aren’t incompatible with the procedure.

Other ways to reduce your risks include carefully following pre and post-operative instructions, finding a LASIK provider that is skilled and experienced and ensuring that you are an ideal candidate for LASIK. A person should have stable vision and sufficient corneal thickness to undergo LASIK.

How Long After LASIK Until a Pilot Can Fly Again?
Most people can return to their regular activities within a day or two after LASIK surgery, but the process takes much longer for pilots. A pilot is unable to return to work until their healthcare professional determines that their condition has stabilized. They must also determine that there are no adverse effects or complications from the procedure and that the pilot meets the minimum vision standards required for piloting. This is sometimes completed in as little as a few days, but may take longer.
Once this has been determined a pilot can return to work, but they must provide a copy of their medical record (including the required evaluations) to the Aerospace Medical Certification Division of the FAA. The pilot can resume regular duties unless otherwise notified.

Other Vision Correction Options
While LASIK is one of the most popular vision correction procedures, it isn’t the only one. Other procedures are available such as PRK (photorefractive keratectomy). PRK is another type of laser assisted surgery. Some experts suggest that LASIK is safer and less risky for pilots . LASIK patients are less likely to experience hazy vision, corneal scarring and infection than PRK patients. With both procedures the skill of the surgeon is paramount in determining the type of results one might see and in impacting the outcome.

Pilots that are interested in undergoing LASIK must carefully research the procedure to learn if it is a good choice for their body and career. This procedure was once not allowed, but pilots can now undergo LASIK and keep their jobs as long as the results are good and vision remains in acceptable thresholds. The best way to find out if LASIK is right for you is to talk with your eye doctor.

Are you a pilot that had lasik surgery? Post in the comments below your experience!

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