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As first responders, firefighters have a tough and often treacherous job. Not only do they have to work in fire, smoke, debris, and water, but they have to do it all while wearing bulky protective gear. Of course, it is crucial that firefighters be able to see clearly and effortlessly in order to perform their job. Do you need perfect vision to be a firefighter? No - but if you don’t, you’ll need vision correction of some sort. Although glasses and contact lenses are commonly used for this purpose, they’re not optimal for the work that firefighters do. Can a firefighter have LASIK? Absolutely; in fact, refractive surgery is perfectly suited to this type of work.
Laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK) or photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) are the two most common procedures designed to correct refractive error, such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. A firefighter getting LASIK or PRK no longer needs glasses or contact lenses, ultimately improving their safety on the job.
Why Glasses and Lenses are Bad for Firefighters
Glasses pose many challenges in a firefighter’s day. They may not fit properly under a helmet or face shield, causing bending or shifting of the frame. The lenses may fog up when exposed to steam, smoke, or water. Not to mention the risk that glasses break or fall off in a critical situation!
While contact lenses may seem like a suitable alternative, they have their own set of drawbacks. They can absorb toxic fumes and chemicals, and then leach them back into the eyes for days. If contacts shift, tear or fall out at a precarious time, they too can be dangerous.
Why Consider LASIK for Firefighters
First, there are firefighter vision requirements that must be met before onboarding. In addition to requiring a certain level of vision with glasses or contact lenses, there are often stipulations for minimum vision without glasses or contact lenses. If an applicant is highly nearsighted or farsighted, they may not meet the uncorrected vision requirements, even though they see well with correction.
LASIK for firefighters not only helps to meet the vision requirements, but it also offers tremendous convenience and freedom. Without the worry of glasses fogging up or contact lenses drying out, firefighters can better concentrate on their work. Vision is more natural after refractive surgery, without the distortion of high-powered glasses or the intermittent blur of shifting contact lenses. Although there is an upfront cost to LASIK, the recurring expense of glasses and contact lenses is removed. Further, the possibility of contact lens complications is eliminated. Contact lens wear carries inherent risks, including infection. Exposure to water, especially from dirty sources, heightens this risk. Properly caring for contact lenses can minimize some of their risks, but does not eliminate them altogether.
Risks and Side Effects of LASIK for Firefighters
Although firefighter LASIK reduces job-associated complications, it is not without its own set of risks.
First, refractive surgery requires recovery time. A firefighter getting LASIK or PRK will need to work with their doctor and employer to coordinate sufficient time off for optimal healing.
As with any surgery, LASIK and PRK carry a slight risk of infection. Post-surgery, an antibiotic eye drop will be prescribed to minimize the risk of developing an eye infection. After LASIK, some people experience temporary dryness, discomfort, and redness of the eyes. The likelihood of these lasting longer than the initial healing period is exceedingly rare. A very small percentage of people will experience fluctuations with their vision and may require a touch-up surgery to optimize their vision. Others may experience halos, starbursts, and glare. These symptoms often get better with time and usually do not stop a person from being able to perform their normal day-to-day activities. Talk to your doctor about how likely these side effects are in your case.
LASIK Procedure for Firefighters
The LASIK procedure is easy, fast, and painless. Here is what to expect from the process:
Consultation and Pre-Op
At the initial visit, various screening tests will be performed to determine your candidacy for surgery. Your vision will be checked with and without glasses. Your cornea will be mapped (topography) and its thickness measured. The general health of your eyes will also be evaluated prior to surgery at your dilated pre-op appointment. There are certain parameters that patients must meet in order to make refractive surgery safe and effective. A refractive counselor will discuss the procedures in detail and answer any questions. The patient will then meet with Dr. Kraff, to discuss test results and determine which procedure would be best. While LASIK is the most common technique, some patients may be better suited to other procedures, such as PRK, LASEK, refractive lens exchange (RLE), or implantable Collamer lenses (ICL).
Surgery can be performed anywhere from 1-4 weeks following the initial consultation and pre-op, depending on whether you wear contact lenses. The material of your contact lenses can affect how long you’ll need to be out of them before surgery. Once that is determined, the refractive consultant at the Kraff Eye Institute will find a mutually suitable date and time for the procedure.
On the day of surgery, you will need to be in the office for about two hours. The procedure itself is only about 30 minutes long, but there is both preparation and recovery time to be taken into account. When you arrive, you’ll check in, receive additional testing (if needed), and be given a mild sedative by mouth for relaxation. Then, you’ll be taken to the surgical suite and prepped for the procedure. The eyes will be numbed with anesthetic drops to relieve you of pain and discomfort during the procedure. The surgeon will use a LASER to help guide the treatment. A flap is first created from the outer corneal layers and lifted up and off to the side. This takes about 4-5 minutes. You may experience some pressure during this process, but it only lasts for about 30 seconds. Additional numbing drops will then be applied before the next step. An instrument will be used to help gently keep the eyes open. Next, the flap will be lifted and the laser applied to reshape your cornea. This part is a matter of seconds and you will not feel any pain or discomfort as the LASER is treating. The flap will then be placed back over the treated area and smoothed out to ensure no wrinkles. This step takes about 5 minutes per eye. Once the first eye has been completed, the other will be treated. Once the procedure is done, Dr. Kraff will inspect his work and make sure everything looks perfect.
In PRK, no flap is created. Rather, the outer layer of the cornea is gently removed before the laser is applied to reshape the cornea. A bandage contact lens is then placed to protect the cornea while the outer layer regenerates new cells.
You will then transition to the recovery room, where your post-operative instructions will be reviewed and your questions answered. Dr. Kraff will examine your eyes again before you go. You’ll need to have someone drive you home on the day of surgery.
You’ll be instructed to sleep 4-6 hours upon arriving home, allowing your eyes to recover. You may experience some blur and discomfort. It’s best to keep the eyes closed for most of the day to ensure a faster recovery. By the next day, your vision will have drastically improved.
The recovery for PRK takes a little longer and the patient should plan on laying low for the first couple of days following the treatment.
You’ll return to the clinic the next day for a quick follow-up. Dr. Kraff will review how you’re progressing and answer any questions that may have come up. The vast majority of people who have LASIK are able to return to most of their normal activities within 24 hours of their surgery. The follow-up visit schedule thereafter is variable, depending on patient recovery.
People often wonder, can I be a firefighter with LASIK? The answer is – absolutely, it’ll be even easier! It’s no surprise that there are so many LASIK eye surgery firefighters. In the context of their work, it just makes sense. Call your doctor to discuss your options for vision correction today.