Ophthalmologists can help put the 'safety' in public safety forces

April 6, 2009

San Francisco-Refractive surgeons can take pride in something they typically may not consider: the role they play in public safety.

San Francisco-Refractive surgeons can take pride in something they typically may not consider: the role they play in public safety.

Eric D. Donnenfeld, MD, FACS, a private practitioner in New York City, was working at Manhattan Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I had a really significant experience that I will certainly remember for the rest of my life,” Dr. Donnenfeld said.

According to Dr. Donnenfeld, he and the other physicians and health-care professionals at MEEI were surprised and even a little shocked when casualties started arriving. They were seeing large numbers of firefighters and police officers, who were presenting with foreign-body sensations as well as dust and debris in their eyes. Many had lost their contact lenses or glasses.

“Their lives did change forever, and many of them had experienced terrible psychological tragedy,” Dr. Donnenfeld said. In addition, losing their contact lenses and glasses negatively affected their ability to do their jobs. Many subsequently sought refractive surgery, thinking that was the only way that they could ever function again in their jobs.

Not much data are available regarding refractive surgery in safety forces, unlike refractive surgery in armed forces personnel, which has been extensively studied and published, he said. No universal vision standards exist for public safety personnel, and standards can vary state to state. Many police and fire departments, however, require uncorrected visual acuity of at least 20/100 and best-corrected visual acuity of at least 20/20 from their workers, Dr. Donnenfeld said.

Such a level of vision is required, for instance, he continued, because police officers need to be able to see whether someone is pointing a gun at them, and firefighters have to be able to read street signs.

Contact lenses and glasses can be problematic for safety personnel, however, Dr. Donnenfeld said. Fog and rain can cause issues for those who wear glasses, and spectacle-wearers might not be able to perform their jobs if they were to lose their glasses. Contact lenses could be an issue, too, if they slip or fall out of the eye.

“Good vision is an important attribute for police officers and firefighters, and refractive surgery offers a huge benefit to firefighters and policemen,” he concluded. “It improves performance and safety, and that safety translates to us, the ultimate beneficiary.”

Related Content:

News