No matter what level of sports you or your child is involved in, you want the best vision and eye safety possible. From tee ball to the major leagues, from basketball to football to hockey, the basic goals are pretty much the same: crystal clear vision so the athlete performs as well as possible, and adequate eye protection so that they finish their game of choice injury-free. For athletes who need vision correction there are several options:
- Wear regular eyeglasses and keep your fingers crossed for most of your playing time
- Wear contact lenses
- Wear prescription safety goggles or glasses that are designed for sports
- Have LASIK surgery
- Give orthokeratology a try
The concept of ortho-k
Orthokeratology, or ortho-k, uses rigid, gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses to reshape your corneas while you sleep, resulting in clear, lens-free vision during the day. It can be used to correct myopia (nearsightedness) and also astigmatism, though some people are better candidates than others. The treatment is FDA approved for up to 6 diopters of myopia, for example, but it is believed to be more successful for those with 4 or less. Up to -1.75 diopters of astigmatism can be treated.
It may take as little as a few days to see improvement with orthokeratology, but for many it can take up to a couple of weeks or more to maximize vision correction, and you may need one or more pairs of temporary lenses before your final goal is reached. The worse your vision is initially, the longer it will generally take to correct. In the clinical study for one type of ortho-k lenses, 95% of patients achieved at least 20/40 vision, and 73% achieved 20/20 or better.
Once your vision goal is reached, you may only have to wear the lenses every couple of nights to maintain it, though some will have to continue to wear the lenses nightly or even part of the day. If treatment is discontinued, the eyes will gradually revert back to their original shape and prescription.
The drawbacks of glasses during sports
While traditional eyeglasses are a good choice in many circumstances, there are significant drawbacks to wearing them during sports, such as:
- Glasses may slip down the nose or fall off during games.
- Wearing a strap to hold the glasses in place can be uncomfortable.
- They can break during an impact, not only resulting in the loss of the glasses but also potentially injuring the eyes and/or face.
- Glasses can fog up during play, blocking vision.
- They may worsen break outs especially when worn during strenuous exercise. (Sweating plus the friction of the frames can exacerbate acne).
- They may interfere with peripheral vision.
- Glasses may not fit correctly under helmets or goggles.
- They may not be allowed in some sports and leagues.
The drawbacks of wearing contact lenses during sports
Contact lenses are great and many people are just fine with them, however during sporting events they can be a bit problematic, just like regular glasses can be. Some of the drawbacks of contact lenses include:
- They may dry out and lead to irritated, itchy eyes.
- They can become dislodged, move out of place or pop out at the worst time.
- They may not correct some levels of astigmatism as well as glasses would.
- They can exacerbate eye allergies, especially during the spring and summer months.
The drawbacks of LASIK eye surgery
Many athletes opt for LASIK to free themselves from the need to wear contacts or eyeglasses altogether, especially since some sports will no longer allow eyeglasses, requiring other options to be considered. While many people are satisfied with their results, there are some things that you should know about this and other corrective eye surgery:
- There are risks and potential complications associated with refractive surgery including bleeding, infection, chronic dry eye, blurry vision and visual aberrations such as glare, ghosting, halos and more.
- You may be end up with less-than-perfect vision, leaving you still stuck with glasses, contact lenses, or having to do a second “enhancement” surgery.
- There is a recovery period after surgery. You will not be able to exercise at all for at least the first few days, and it will likely be one to two months before your eyes can withstand the rigorousness of heavy exercise, contact sports or exposure to water. It is vital to follow your surgeons after care instructions to the letter, as any eye injury or irritation can permanently affect your vision during this healing period.
- You must be at least 18 years old to have the surgery.
The advantages of ortho-k
There are a number of reasons that ortho-k should be considered by the athlete. Namely:
- It is safe and completely reversible if you are unhappy with the side effects or dissatisfied with results.
- Ortho-k may be used for children as young as seven years old.
- It may slow the progression of myopia for kids and teens.
- Is not for those with hyperhopia (farsightedness) or higher degrees of myopia or astigmatism.
- It can be expensive, though the actual cost will depend heavily on your specific needs, as this will determine how many pairs of lenses and how many followup visits will be required during treatment.
- As with most procedures, there are potential side-effects. Complications include visual aberrations such as halos, ghosting, double-vision and starbursts. These are most common during the first months of treatment, when the cornea is being reshaped and vision has not yet stabilized, but in some people may persist even once the final prescription has been reached. As you’d imagine, complications associated with the use of contact lenses, such as the risk of infection, also apply to ortho-k.