The mountain climbing disaster on Mt. Everest in 1996 has remained in the public memory, becoming the subject for dozens of books, three documentaries, and, most recently, a big-budget blockbuster film starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, and Keira Knightley. Coverage of the disaster also had major implications for LASIK surgery.
One of the survivors of the Everest disaster, Beck Weathers, had undergone radial keratotomy surgery to fix his eyesight. Weathers reported afterwards that a major loss of eyesight occurred as he was trying to reach the summit, forcing him to stop climbing. When a storm hit the mountain, he was unable to make it back to camp, losing his nose and both hands to frostbite. Weathers attributed his loss of eyesight to the corrective surgery he had previously undergone.
These claims created a of controversy within the ophthalmological community. While it is theoretically possible for surgical patients to experience vision problems above 10,000 feet, occurrences are rare and usually minor. In 2003, six climbers who had all undergone LASIK surgery climbed Mt. Everest. Four reached the top, three reported no problems with their vision, and none reported any issues as serious as the blindness experienced by Weathers in 1996. Scientists have tried to replicate the conditions in labs, with inconclusive results.
So if you're a die-hard mountaineer who has "hike the Seven Summits" written and underlined on your bucket list, should you avoid LASIK? While we won't answer that for you, it's worth remembering that many people with LASIK have climbed Everest without experiencing any problems, and that glasses or contact lenses carry their own risks.
Or you could elect to get PRK surgery, which has never been associated with elevation-related vision problems of any kind.
Whatever you decide, the eye doctors at Seeta Eye Care Centers in Dutchess County will be happy to walk you through the process and answer any questions you have. Contact us to arrange for an eye exam by calling 845-454-1025 . We serve patients in Yorktown, Highland, Poughkeepsie, and throughout the Hudson Valley and upstate New York.