Is Rock Climbing After LASIK A Good Idea? (Here’s What A Doctor Told Me)


LASIK eye surgery had been my dream ever since I first heard about it as a teenager. Glasses are better than not being able to see, and contacts are better than glasses, but both are terrible options and are really annoying for someone with an active lifestyle. I was a little hesitant to get Lasik, and worried that it might keep me from some of my favorite activities- like rock climbing.

The ophthalmologist I spoke to said that there are no concerns for LASIK eye surgery for rock climbers. The main things to worry about for the first few weeks are getting dust in your eyes, rubbing your eyes, or hitting your eyes. I had it done on a Friday, worked a full day on Monday, and went climbing outside the following Wednesday.

Rock Climbing After LASIK Eye Surgery

I talked with a handful of LASIK providers to figure out what was best for me, and asked about rock climbing and other activities at each of them. Below I wrote up why I went where I did, how the surgery went, and what things climbers ought to know about LASIK. I should also point out that I am not an eye doctor, so this is just my experience. Talk to a doctor before making any decisions.

My Eyes 2 Days after LASIK

The Eye Center

I went in to two different eye centers to get a quote for LASIK surgery, The LASIK Vision Institute and LASIK Plus. I also called a couple of places and got other quotes. They all told me that there were essentially no risks at all and it would change my life. It sounded nice, but I did do some research online as well before committing (yes, at venerable sites like MountainProject and Reddit/climbing).

I settled on LASIK Plus for a few different reasons. Their price at the time was comparable with the LASIK Vision Institute, which was the other low-cost provider. From what I could tell, the local places were using older lasers and I wanted the latest and greatest. LASIK Plus uses a state-of-the-art laser along with AI that supposedly learns from every surgery.

LASIK Plus also had a guarantee of lifetime touch-ups at no cost. Other places had no guarantee, and LVI required an annual checkup in order to provide the guarantee. LASIK Plus was also set up with a financing company that let me pay over 2 years with 0% interest. Yeah, I’ll keep my money for two years, sure.

Because I had already gone through the qualification eye exam with another provider, they told me I could come in and get it done on the same day. I was able to go in and have the procedure done the same week.

The Surgery

My wife dropped me off at the surgery center (due to COVID-19 she couldn’t stay to hold my hand). I filled out some paperwork, watched a couple of informative videos, and did a quick eye exam that confirmed I was a good candidate. They gave me the official quote- about $3500 for both eyes.

I signed the papers, including the 0% interest financing plan for the 2 years. They asked if I wanted to take a Valium before going in for the surgery, and I naively declined. In hindsight, I recommend the valium!

I waited about 10 minutes and then was called back into the surgery room. They put yellow numbing drops in my eyes and waited a minute for them to kick in. Then I lay down in the chair and Dr. Sally Thompson put some weird clamps on my eyes to keep them open and had me stare up at a colored dot on the laser. It cut a flap in my corneas. All I could feel was some pressure from the clamps.

Next I walked over to the other laser, laid down, and went through a similar thing. This time it took a few minutes longer as the laser was actually doing the shaping underneath the flap. At the risk of TMI, the worst part was a slight burning smell. At this point, without having taken Valium, I was experiencing a fair amount of anxiety!

I finished and they gave me some sunglasses to wear. I texted my wife, who came to pick me up. I had a nap the rest of the afternoon, and wore the sunglasses indoors for the next 2-3 days. I was instructed to wear them at nights for the first week, and had a brief follow up a couple of days later where they confirmed I was already at 20/20 vision.

Over the first week my vision cleared up and I was seeing better than 20/20. I used eye drops every few hours as directed for the first few weeks. After about a month and a half I didn’t need them anymore. From what I understand, some people need them for several months.

If you go to any LASIK Plus eye center, tell them Jake Harmer sent you and they’ll give you a referral discount.

PRK and Rock Climbing

PRK is a slightly more intensive surgery where they shave off part of your cornea instead of leaving a flap open. It takes closer to a month to heal up, and is more painful. Some people’s corneas are too thin for LASIK, so they have to go with PRK.

The benefit to PRK is that there’s less concern about there being really bad side-effects if you get hit in the eye. Doctors recommend PRK for fighters (boxing, MMA, etc.) and members of the Military. I asked my ophthalmologist if PRK was recommended for rock climbing, and she said that LASIK was just fine.

My dad had PRK back in about 2010. I remember him sleeping on the couch all day for a few days with sunglasses on. He also wanted to show us all the video of his surgery (of course we watched it). Ten years later he’s in his 50’s and is starting to use reading glasses, but his long vision is still good.

The Best Advantages to LASIK for Rock Climbers

The ~$3500 I spent for LASIK was probably the best money I have spent on myself, ever. After 15 years of glasses and contacts, I am finally free! I joke with my wife that not worrying about contacts saves me about 2 minutes per day, or 12 hours per year. That’s an extra day of climbing each year instead of poking my fingers in my eyes!

canyoneering after LASIK
Canyoneering 1.5 weeks after Surgery

Happy Campers

The best part about having had Lasik for me is how it has changed camping for me. I primarily wore contacts before, which meant having to deal with them at night and in the morning or biting the bullet and sleeping in them.

Taking them out at night always meant trying to create a hospital-like sterile environment so I could remove the contacts and store them in the case. Without fail, no matter how hard I tried, there would be dirt in the contact case in the morning. I would have to put them in and take them out multiple times until I managed to get the dust off.

If you go the easy way and just sleep in your contacts (aside from the risks to your eyes), then you wake up and suffer the agony of sandpaper eyes. For this same reason, I always tried to avoid naps.

Now I can just brush my teeth (or not) and fall asleep wherever I want. When I wake up I don’t need to worry about creating a sterile environment to stick my fingers in my eyes! Sometimes my eyes are more dry in the mornings, but I think that’s when I sleep with an eye cracked open.

Goodbye Glasses

Glasses have their own challenges, including fogging up if there’s any humidity, getting lost or stepped on, and narrowing your field of vision. There are also some situations on the wall where your glasses keep you from getting up as close as possible to help balance. You can’t really grip the wall with your eyelids with glasses on.

Contact!

With contacts it was all-too easy to get sand or dirt into my eyes. Once you get dirt in your eyes with contacts on it can be really hard to get it out. It’s no fun to cry in front of your friends. I was worried about getting dirt in my eyes after Lasik, but so far it is the same as getting dirt in them without contacts. You blink a few times, rub a little bit, and you’re good to finish the send.

My eyes used to start to get really tired around 8 or 9 at night too when I would wear contacts. I would blink and blink, but there’s only so much you can do. It was really annoying when we were driving long distances because I usually just eventually had to give up and trade with someone else because my eyes were too dry and tired.

I’m 6 months into my super vision now. My eyes are still a little dry at the end of the day, but no where near what they were with contacts. I’m hoping they’ll continue to get better.

Shades for Days

Living in Arizona and Southern Utah, I’m used to a LOT of sun. That means wearing sunglasses almost all the time with my genetically-inferior blue eyes. Sunglasses on top of regular glasses are clunky (and don’t get me started on transition lenses). Now I can just wear whatever sunglasses I want.

The Downside to LASIK for Rock Climbers

Take Some Time Off

The doctor really gave me no restrictions after getting my Lasik. Her advice was to go home and sleep the day away and then the next day would be pretty much fine. I was a bit skeptical, but it really turned out to be just that. I had a headache for a day or too and wore sunglasses inside, feeling like my eyes were hyper-sensitive.

I had it done on a Friday afternoon. The next Wednesday I was out Rock Climbing again. The doctor may not have specifically recommended getting out that soon, but I was cautious and had no problems. Plus, it was a 60 degree day in November!

That Friday I went back to the climbing gym. I was a little bit worried about chalk, but it was totally fine. I climbed twice within a week of my surgery. Since then I’ve climbed harder grades than before the surgery, so Lasik definitely helped.

Tired Eyes

As mentioned above, my eyes do get a little bit more tired at nights than they did when I just wore glasses before. On the other hand, they get less tired than they did when I’d wear contacts. For me, this was well worth the trade-off.

LASIK and Onions
Onions Now Make Me Cry

Onions

The only other downside I can think of that you should be aware of is that I am now sensitive to onions. Before having Lasik I can only remember ever crying when I cut an onion like once. It was kind of a super power I had, which meant it was always my job. One time I even ate halfway through an onion dipped in carmel without tearing up (but that’s another story).

Now as soon as I cut into an onion my eyes start burning and watering. I try to tough it out, but I usually end up scrubbing my hands several times throughout. It’s no fun being mortal again.

Is LASIK Right for You?

Don’t ask me, I’m not your doctor! It was definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done. I love waking up in the night being able to see, I love being able to fall asleep whenever and wherever without worrying about waking up with dry contact eyes, and I love being able to blink out dust from my eyes. If you go to any LASIK Plus eye center, tell them Jake Harmer sent you and they’ll give you a referral discount.

Jake Harmer

Husband, Father, Wild Animal. If I could explore canyons and cliffs every day, I would. For now, I dream about it during the week and go hard on the weekends. Living in the St. George area with my wife and kids.

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