Is LASIK safe for mixed martial arts fighters?

I used to give lots of extra precautions to MMA fighters after LASIK, but over the years, I’ve never seen or heard of a LASIK-related problem from a fight.

Joel Hunter, MD
Joel Hunter, MD
Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 10/31/18 10:42 AM

Mixed Martial Arts fighting has taken off in the last few years in a way that is deeply satisfying to both people who love to watch a good fight and some people who don’t. For people who don’t, I imagine it’s satisfying just because with all the sanctioned MMA fights there is less fear of bored MMA fighters showing up and superman punching their kitchen table in half. Either way, I meet far more patients who are curious about whether they can have LASIK and continue MMA fighting now, and you’d better believe that I will be giving them all of the information they need about safety of the procedure so I can continue to ensure my own. In Med School one of the first principles taught is, “First, do no harm.” The second lesson is, “Do everything you can for every patient, for you never know when they may possess deadly skill.” In an effort to stay out of an arm bar I always uphold the second rule of medical training as well as the first. In full disclosure, it’s possible that second rule was an ancient Chinese proverb I picked up on reddit.

Anyway, the LASIK answer is easy because after a month of healing, anything that could cause LASIK-related injury to the eye would have caused an eye injury anyway. I used to give lots of extra precautions to MMA fighters after LASIK, but over the years, I’ve never seen or heard of a LASIK-related problem from a fight. Some of them actually opt for PRK (also known as ASA) which is similar to LASIK but the treatment is done right on the front of the cornea, rather than under a protective tissue barrier like in LASIK. Recovery time is more uncomfortable for the direct-to-cornea procedure, but these are people who are used to getting kneed in the nose, so I have found that my talk about post-procedural discomfort really doesn’t have the same pizazz for them.

Specific eye injuries related to fighting, like the impressive-looking subconjunctival hemorrhage are far more talked about than a vision correcting procedure with this crowd. They enjoy talking about the clear skin on the front of the eye, called conjunctiva, doing spectacular job of taking a single drop of blood underneath it and smooshing it to cover a lot of the white of the eye. Since the conjunctiva is so clear, that single drop of blood can make an eye look fearsome and also disgusting, exactly the vibe some of them are going for when they step into the Octagon. It clears after a few weeks, requires no treatment, and has no effect on the vision at any point. It simply makes you look tough and I let them know that we cannot purposefully do that for them.

The risks to an MMA fighter that are more of a concern than anything LASIK-related range from a scratch called a corneal abrasion to a fracture of the bones around the eye. Impact fractures that can blow a hole in the bone of your eye socket (an orbital blowout fracture) usually require the force of a car crash, so unless you’re getting hit by Ronda Rousey, it’s not super likely even in your standard Octagon tangle-up (that’s what they call it, right?). But if you do find yourself in a situation with Rousey, you probably have bigger problems. I’d focus on addressing her as such, apologizing for being in her space and then trying to hide in a bush or under a bed—whether you’ve had LASIK or not.

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