Vision correction options for cyclists
By Dr. Richard S. Kattouf II
You’re on a descent, hitting speeds over 40 mph, with a 90-degree turn at the bottom. Suddenly, your glasses fog up….
If you’re a cyclist who wears glasses or contact lenses, you’re well aware of the special problems you face in a sport where clear vision is critical. Cyclists are exposed to a great deal of wind, which often carries debris. If this debris lodges itself underneath a contact lens, it can cause severe discomfort and affect your vision and depth perception — not something you want during training or racing. Eyeglasses offer an alternative to contacts, but they can get dirty, broken, lost, scratched or fogged — usually at the worst possible moment.
Fortunately, whether you are nearsighted, farsighted or astigmatic, there are now a number of ways to attain clear vision without wearing contact lenses or glasses. In our ever-progressing high-tech world, refractive surgery and accelerated orthokeratology (Ortho-K) lead the way in vision correction.
Laser vision correction (Lasik) is a state-of-the-art surgical procedure that corrects nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. Ortho-K is a non-surgical procedure that corrects nearsightedness and astigmatism. Both procedures eliminate the need for either eyeglasses or daily-wear contact lenses.
Lasik works by reshaping the curvature of the cornea with a laser, thereby improving the patient’s distance vision. The procedure is pain-free and has a low percentage of minor side effects, such as dry eye and halos around lights. Laser vision correction is not a lengthy procedure. Once you are on the operating table, a skilled surgeon can complete the surgery in approximately 3-5 minutes per eye. The recovery time from Lasik surgery is also minimal. There’s a good chance that you can be back on your bike the next day.
For those cyclists who are apprehensive about having surgery on their eyes, Ortho-K is an excellent option. This procedure corrects nearsightedness and astigmatism through the use of a specially designed gas-permeable contact lens that are worn only at night while you sleep. By wearing this reverse-geometry molding contact lens, your cornea is flattened and your vision gradually improves. The lens is removed upon awakening and you enjoy clear vision throughout the day.
An accelerated Ortho-K contact lens is larger than an ordinary gas-permeable contact lens, but smaller than a soft contact lens. Patients often experience some lid sensitivity during their first few nights of wear. This lid sensitivity will dissipate each night. The process is similar to that of wearing braces for the teeth. When a patient’s braces are removed, he wears a retainer in order to keep the teeth in place. Your Ortho-K contact lens can be compared to the braces and retainer combined. It serves to mold your cornea and help it retain its shape as time goes on. Depending on one’s prescription, an Ortho-K contact lens is worn anywhere from three nights to seven nights per week.
Those of you wearing bifocals may wonder if either of these procedures will correct your near-vision. This depends on your prescription. Some nearsighted patients can opt to have monovision performed with either Lasik or Ortho-K. Monovision involves correcting your dominant eye for improved distance vision, while modifying your non-dominant eye for improved near-vision. With both eyes open, you are able to adapt to this type of vision. However, this option presents possible problems: Some patients are unable to adapt to monovision, due to compromised distance-vision, compromised near-vision or both. Other patients may experience decreased depth perception. Because depth perception is critical in cycling, monovision is not the correction of choice for cyclists.
Of the numerous patients whom I have examined after they’ve undergone either Lasik or Ortho-K, the results and satisfaction have been extremely high. Patients experience incredible joy once they achieve clear vision without their contacts or glasses. Being able to train and race without wearing a visual correction can be a life-changing experience.
I know this first-hand. After 21 years of wearing contact lenses — since I was 7 years old — I chose to have Laser surgery. Ortho-K was not an option for me because I was too nearsighted. I chose Lasik because as a multisport athlete, training and racing without contact lenses was appealing to me.
I couldn’t be more satisfied. My vision is extremely clear, both day and night. Dr. Edmund Burke, the renowned sports physiologist and author, recently had Lasik as well. He told me he achieved 20-20 vision five days after his surgery. In regard to the side effects, Burke reported some cornea dryness and fluctuating vision, which is improving each day. Fluctuating vision is common during recovery from Lasik surgery, and is characterized by relatively rapid changes in vision, from focused to blurry to out-of-focus. This symptom, which is mostly caused by excessive corneal dryness, gradually lessens and disappears altogether after a few days.
Meanwhile, there also have been great advances in conventional vision correction procedures. Contact lenses now correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. If you wear bifocals and are unable to see your cycling computer, bifocal contact lenses and monovision correction could be a solution. And the latest development in contact lens technology is uniquely tinted lenses that provide sun and glare protection.
If contact lenses, Lasik or Ortho-K do not fit your lifestyle, prescription sports eyewear is your best option. Clear lenses and a multitude of tinted lenses are available for just about any light condition. A good all-weather lens is one that is tinted persimmon. This lens provides adequate glare protection on sunny days, yet also enhances vision on overcast days. Mountain bikers perform well with this lens, due to the fact that their rides include wooded and shaded trails, combined with more open, sunny areas. Some companies offer removable prescription inserts for their sport frames, which are good alternatives for contact-lens wearers. But no matter which lenses you buy, be sure they offer ultraviolet protection.
Cycling is a high-speed, potentially dangerous sport. Clear vision minimizes the risks involved. Whichever vision correction you choose, consult a qualified optometrist and ophthalmologist and gather as much information as possible.
Dr. Richard S. Kattouf II is a Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) member, optometrist, and nationally ranked duathlete. He can be reached through advancedeyecare@ hotmail.com or 800/745-EYES. Please visit CTS at www.trainright.com.