Surface ablation: PRK and Lasek eye surgery is the most common laser eye surgery procedure in US military

(OCULAR SURGERY NEWS U.S. EDITION March 25, 2010)

a_manWithWaterOnGlassesMore than 312,000 laser refractive procedures performed in the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy have provided invaluable insight about laser refractive surgery to both military and civilian communities. Since the first military laser study began in 1993 and the U.S. Department of Defence adopted laser refractive surgery in 2000, military laser refractive cases have demonstrated safety, efficacy and excellent visual results when performed in appropriate patients.

U.S. Navy Capt. David J. Tanzer, MD, said. “We’re looking at safety and efficacy of [military] war fighters, so we want to ensure that these procedures are safe. .”

Known as a “force enhancer” or “force extender” in military parlance, refractive surgery is considered a life-saving procedure in all branches of the U.S. military.

“Refractive surgery has been revolutionary in the military,” Dr. Schallhorn said. “Nothing short of revolutionary, as far as what it can offer active duty members. Put simply, it can enhance battlefield safety and improve the performance of our military personnel.”

In the Army, both PRK and LASIK are waived for most service personnel. LASIK is performed in the Army; however, surface ablation, such as PRK and LASEK, is the preferred procedure to be performed on combat-bound soldiers and others in special operations.

Military laser refractive surgery is voluntary and based on FDA guidelines for patient selection. Patients are carefully screened and provided a detailed informed consent before refractive surgery, the same as with civilian populations.

The most common laser procedure performed in all branches of the military is PRK, while LASIK has been gaining in popularity in recent years. In some Army laser refractive centers, up to 30% of procedures are LASIK.

Dr. Tanzer said refractive surgery has also improved vision in demanding environments, including underwater and in the air. For example, he performed PRK on the first F-18 pilot to have refractive surgery and then land on board an aircraft carrier. Subsequently, he was a passenger in a plane piloted by that patient to assess results of the surgery.

The pilot successfully landed the plane on an aircraft carrier for a night re-qualifying run with his surgeon in the backseat.

“As we were flying to the ship that night, he related to me that he had never seen the carrier or the landing lights better,” Dr. Tanzer said. “You can well imagine that vision is the critical sense when it comes to landing aircraft, let alone landing an aircraft on a pitching deck of an aircraft carrier.”

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