Optometry specialists offer vision-repairing surgery

by Airman 1st Class Trevor Rhynes
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The Ramstein Optometry Flight and specialists at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center offer a way for service members to get their vision fixed by undergoing corneal refractive surgery here, as opposed to getting the procedure done at a hospital in the U.S., saving money and time.

CRS, which breaks up into two different eye surgeries, reduces dependence on glasses or contacts. The procedure is done at LRMC after a member is deemed eligible by an optometrist.

“There are many factors to consider in determining who is a candidate for refractive surgery,” said Capt. Jay Butler, 86th Optometry Flight staff optometrist. “In addition to having a stable prescription over a year’s time, member’s eyes also need to be very healthy inside and out with one year’s retain ability with no deployments scheduled.”

Waiting time for the surgery has been reduced with the fast track program offered at the LRMC.

“With the initiation of the Fast Track Program at LRMC, there is virtually no waiting list,” Butler said. “We invite members to come in to the Ramstein Optometry Clinic and ask if they are a candidate for refractive surgery. From there, we can look at their medical records and determine if they are a candidate, or if they need a routine exam.”

As with other surgeries, recovery time depends on the person and type of surgery. There are two different surgeries that are offered: LASIK or PRK (a lesser known type of surgery).

“Everyone has heard about LASIK, but PRK, photorefractive keratectomy, isn’t as known. However, it has been around much longer,” Butler said. “The recovery period with LASIK is much shorter. And with LASIK, people usually see very well immediately after the surgery with minimal discomfort, and the patient will remain on medication eye drops for two to four weeks and artificial tears for up to a year.”

PRK takes longer and patients feel discomfort during recovery.

“With PRK, the recovery period is much longer and varies depending on how quickly the patient heals,” Butler said. “After PRK, patients are usually in some discomfort for about three to five days and vision fluctuates as the corneal tissue evens out in the healing process (around three months). Some research suggests slightly better acuity in the long run with PRK, but results are similar. Currently, 80 to 90 percent of patients receiving refractive surgery through LRMC have PRK performed.”

Both surgeries have their benefits, including removing the dependence on glasses by improving vision to 20/20.

“We always tell patients that the true purpose of corneal refractive surgery is to decrease dependence on glasses and contact lenses. It is true that after the surgery, many people are glasses-free for years,” he said. “Data collected by the military tells us that at the one-year mark after refractive surgery at a military surgery center, somewhere between 95 and 98 percent of patients are seeing 20/20 or better without any kind of correction. However, there is still a chance for slipping back into a small prescription as the years go by, and everyone much past the age of 40 will still need some type of glasses correction for reading and computer use.”  

So, weigh your options and speak to an optometrist to see if you’re eligible for these surgeries.

“Some people are intolerable to contact lenses and some report that glasses are a nuisance,” Butler said. “Some people can’t even see the alarm clock in the morning without first reaching for their glasses. For these kinds of people, corneal refractive surgery is not only beneficial, but life-changing.”

If interested in either the LASIK or PRK surgeries, set up an appointment to have your medical records checked or to undergo a routine appointment. Like other surgeries, there are possible side effects and complications. Remember to speak with your optometrist to help you understand them.