Lasik and Mountain Climbing, Are there Any Risks with the Altitude?

I had Lasik over 12 years ago and am now planning on climbing Mt Elbrus, would it still have a bearing on the altitude after having had the op so long ago?

Doctor Answers 4

Lasik and Mountain Climbing

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There are no long term reasons to not go mountain climbing after Lasik. In the short term postop, about two weeks, I would rather you not do those kinds of activities, simply to allow the corneas to heal properly without too many variables. The air at those altitudes is pretty dry, as well, so artificial tears are important for any planned trip. Many many years ago, there was a book written about a climber who had had Radial Keratotomy(RK), a procedure I stopped doing in 1994. This was an incisional procedure completely unlike Laser Vision Correction. In his case, he suffered drastic fluctuations in vision at high altitudes and almost lost his life. The dramatic nature of his story and book has made that concern a legend, but it is no longer true in the slightest sense.

To put this in a more updated context, the US Navy allows their SEALS and pilots to have Lasik(femtosecond flaps and wavefront treatments....both platforms that I have and use daily), and they allow their soldiers to go back to full activity within 2-4 weeks. So, if it is good enough for the SEALS, and what they are doing, it is good enough for me and you!!

Baltimore Ophthalmologist

LASIK & High Altitude Climbing

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I'm going to have to disagree with Dr Chynn. The evidence shows that LASIK is safe with high altitude climbing. Many climbers of Mt Everst have in fact had LASIK.  LASIK has also been used for years by Naval fighter pilots without adverse effects. 


This answer is coming from a surgeon who performs both LASIK and advanced surface treatments!

Cary M. Silverman, MD
West Orange Ophthalmologist

LASIK and altitude

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Don't worry about any altitude effects with LASIK. that would be extremely uncommon and likely limited to patients that had very high rx treatments and/or have resultant weakened corneas and poor vision already.    Radial Keratotomy, a procedure where we used to make several incisions in the cornea to flatten it, did result in weakness and altitude related issues/blurring.   RK was replaced by laser treatments in the early 90's.  

Andrew E. Holzman, MD
McLean Ophthalmologist

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Lasik vs lasek and mountain climbing altitude

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i trained with an eye surgeon at Harvard 20 years ago who had a very early LASIK, and then tried to climb up either Everest or K2 (the 2nd highest mountain in the world). his flap decompensated, and he lost vision, and went temporarily blind at the summit, and had to be medi-vac'd out. once he returned to a normal lower altitude, his vision went back to normal

you will not have this problem after LASEK or epiLASEK, which are both Advanced Surface Ablations (ASAs), which are flap-less, so there is no flap to be compromised

so don't get a cutting procedure like LASIK or IntraLase if you are going to be a serious climber, get a noncutting ASA procedure, like LASEK or epiLASEK

Emil William Chynn, MD, FACS, MBA
New York Ophthalmologist

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.