Background: Previous studies documented diurnal myopic shifts in patients who have had radial keratotomy (RK). Recently, hyperopic shifts in these patients exposed to high altitude have been reported. A direct mechanical effect of reduced barometric pressure on surgically altered corneas has been theorized to cause this hyperopic shift. Another hypothesis implicates the effect of hypobaric hypoxia on the RK incisions. The authors examined the effect of a 6-hour exposure to decreased barometric pressure on 14 normal and 18 RK corneas. Methods: Cycloplegic refraction, keratometry, corneal pachymetry, and tonometry were performed on seven control subjects and nine patients who have had RK. Measurements were obtained over 8 hours at sea level on day 1 of the study. Measurements were repeated on day 2 which included a 6-hour exposure to 12,000 feet simulated altitude in a hypobaric chamber. Results were compared between subjects and control subjects to determine the effect of a 6-hour exposure to decreased barometric pressure. Results: There was no statistically significant difference in refraction or keratometry readings between control subjects and subjects who have had RK. Central corneal thickness decreased in the afternoon in RK eyes compared with control eyes. There was no clinically significant difference in intraocular pressure between subjects who have had RK and control subjects. Conclusions: A measurable hyperopic shift in RK corneas exposed to high altitude requires more than 6 hours to develop. A direct effect on corneal shape due to barometric pressure alone should produce a sudden change in refractive error. This study supports the hypothesis that a slow metabolic process is responsible for the previously documented hyperopic shifts induced by altitude. However, a barometric pressure effect requiring more than 6 hours to occur cannot be ruled out with the methodology used in this study.
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