LASIK vs. Contact Lenses: What Is the Best Choice?

Contact Lenses vs LASIK

The need for vision correction is highly prevalent worldwide. In fact, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 150 million people use corrective eyewear to compensate for refractive errors in just the United States alone. Additionally, Americans spend more than $15 billion each year on eyewear to correct their vision deficiencies. Although contact lenses and eyeglasses are effective forms of vision correction, many opt for corrective eye surgeries instead. Approximately 600,000 people undergo LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) eye surgery or a similar refractive procedure each year in the United States. It is important for anyone who needs vision correction to understand their options beyond wearing contact lenses.

Human Eye LASIK Surgery

LASIK Eye Surgery Refresher

LASIK is a laser eye surgery used to correct refractive errors and improve vision. It is a versatile and common procedure that can be used to correct nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), or astigmatism.

During LASIK surgery, a thin, circular flap is made on the cornea with the use of a femtosecond laser. The surgeon then lifts this flap, and uses a computer-guided excimer laser to reshape the cornea to correct the refractive error with a high degree of accuracy. The corneal flap is then put back into place, allowing the site of the correction to heal naturally.

LASIK eye surgery is safe and effective, with one of the highest patient satisfaction rates of any elective procedure.

Which Is Better: LASIK or Contact Lenses?

Contact Lenses vs LASIK

When it comes down to deciding which method of vision correction to use, there are many factors to consider such as comfort, convenience, lifestyle, eye strain, and of course cost. So which is better when it comes to LASIK vs contacts? While personal preferences will play a role in one’s decision, there are some clear differences between each of these vision solutions. We should also note that LASIK is not the only viable option for corrective surgery – however LASIK has withstood the test of time and is likely the most well-known laser eye surgery option.

Comfort and Convenience

For some people, contact lenses are a big step up from eyeglasses when it comes to comfort. If their eyes do not suffer from dryness or allergies, and the contact lenses fit well, the wearer will usually not notice they are there.

However, for those times when a substance such as dirt gets in the eye, there can be significant discomfort with contact lenses. Contact lenses are fairly convenient during the day, as they are with the wearer at all times, but they take some consistent maintenance. Contact lens wearers must put in the contacts every morning, then remove, disinfect, and store the contact lenses every night. Those with contacts also need to monitor how long they have been wearing their current contact lenses, and be diligent about replacing them every two weeks (or as directed).

With LASIK, the only discomfort comes during the healing process immediately following the surgery. The patient may also experience some dry eye symptoms during that time, and need to regularly apply eye drops. Once the eye has fully healed from the LASIK surgery, the eye should feel completely normal and should require no additional forms of maintenance. In fact, one study from Pub Med indicated that in comparison to wearing contact lenses, patients with LASIK experienced improved ease of driving at night, no significant increase in dry eyes, and higher levels of satisfaction in each of the three years following the procedure.

Lifestyle

Another consideration when assessing lenses vs LASIK is how active one’s lifestyle is. While contact lenses are an upgrade from glasses when it comes to those who frequently exercise or play sports, the lens can still become dislodged and/or lost either through rubbing the eye or from accidental contact. Swimming with contact lenses in place is not recommended due to the harm that chlorine and salts will cause the cornea when they are trapped behind the contact lens. Dangerous corneal infections can be caused by swimming in contact lenses as well. Sports that expose people to wind and dust can make contact lens wearing intolerable as well due to induced ocular inflammation. People with Laser Vision Correction will be happy to enjoy their active lifestyle, including exercise and sports without the need for vision correction or the worry of contact lens complications while they are doing what they love.

Digital Eye Strain

In today’s digital world, eye strain is an increasingly relevant issue that can result in headaches, dry eye, and in some cases blurred vision. Given that screens will be present in most of our lifestyles for the foreseeable future, it is a consideration when choosing to wear contact lenses or pursue a long-term laser vision correction like LASIK. It has been suggested that digital eye strain may be amplified by eye conditions such as astigmatism or general refractive error. Contact lenses may actually contribute to digital eye strain, especially if the prescription is slightly off.

Oftentimes eye strain is due to ocular dryness. When we are looking at the computer, television, or even reading a book we tend to blink less often. The decreased blink rate leads to an ocular dryness effect that creates inflammation and irritation. Contact lenses, which create low-grade ocular inflammation and irritation to start with, make eyes more prone to exacerbation of these symptoms when people are  “visually attentive” whether it is on a phone, tablet, computer, or another reading device. Alternatively, LASIK should correct these underlying conditions, allowing patients to continue to use screens with less potential for eye strain and the negative side effects that are associated with it.

Risk

Many assume that a surgery such as LASIK would be riskier than wearing contacts long term, but that is not necessarily the case. While both options carry a small amount of risk for complications by way of infection, it is important to consider the cumulative effects of each. As Dr. Waite of the Hamilton Eye Institute points out, ‘LASIK…is a one-time risk compared to a continuous risk for infection in contact lens users.”

If a contact lens wearer does not follow the cleaning and maintenance protocol, they may put themselves at risk for eye infections (such as conjunctivitis or keratitis). In rare cases, bacterial keratitis or Acanthamoeba keratitis can result in severe vision loss. Contact lens problems typically take longer to develop and the chances of issues arising can be reduced with proper daily lens care. Still, an estimated 1 million visits to clinics were made by contact lens wearers in 2010 to address issues related to microbial keratitis.

It is common for people to have anxiety around having surgery done on their eyes. Still, it is important to remember that over 20 million LASIK procedures have been performed worldwide. LASIK consultations will determine if a person is a viable candidate for the surgery. Then, complex preoperative screening tests are performed to set the foundation for a highly accurate and reliable surgery with an excimer laser. This results in a highly effective treatment that has received around a 96-percent satisfaction rate from patients. However, as with any surgery, there is inherent risk involved. This is why it is important for patients to do their research to find an experienced surgeon who has extensive experience, positive reviews, and is licensed and board-certified to perform LASIK.

Cost

Many wonder: is LASIK cheaper than contacts? It depends on how you look at it. Contact lenses have a much lower up-front cost, but people who wear contacts will usually need to buy multiple boxes of lenses a year. Depending on the type of lens needed, a yearly supply of contact lenses could cost anywhere from $220 to $700. Other potential costs may come in the form of eye exams, glasses, prescription adjustments, replacement lenses, and storage solutions.

On the other hand, the average cost of LASIK in 2020 was about $2,133 per eye with no additional ongoing costs. While this is a substantial investment, it is one that should provide no-hassle results for many years to come. Depending on the age that the patient gets LASIK surgery, they could end up saving thousands of dollars in the same period of time that they could be paying for lenses on an ongoing basis. It is also worth noting that many LASIK clinics will have financing plans available to help make the surgery more accessible. By using this LASIK affordability calculator, users can accurately assess the amount of money they spend each year on glasses and contact lenses, as well the amount they will spend on glasses or contacts by the time they turn 50. By putting this in perspective, it is easy to see the long-term value of LASIK surgery.

Why Should You Not Wear Contacts Before LASIK?

While an eye doctor or surgeon should inform their patient of proper protocols during their LASIK consultation, it is generally recommended for patients to stop wearing lenses for  1-2 weeks leading up to LASIK surgery. The reason behind this is because contacts can temporarily change the shape of the cornea when worn regularly. This can affect the accuracy of pre-surgery measurements of the eyes, and potentially impact the effectiveness of the surgery. Once the patient stops wearing contacts for the necessary duration, the cornea will return to its natural shape – allowing for accurate measurements and a better outcome.

Wearing Contacts After LASIK?

The majority of people who have LASIK have vastly improved vision, but not every patient will hit perfect 20/20 vision. If patients feel as though they need further vision enhancement for select activities, glasses are an easy solution and contacts are still an option for that extra boost. Even those who have a perfect LASIK operation may experience changes in their vision as they get older and their eye experiences natural changes associated with advancing age.

Contacts are safe to wear if vision changes after LASIK. Still, it may be necessary to have a consultation with a doctor who specializes in fitting contacts for different eye shapes, as the topography of the cornea after LASIK is not the same as for someone who has not had the surgery. Because of this, traditional soft contact lenses may not be the best option for many people who have had LASIK.

Conclusion

The debate of LASIK vs contacts is a worthwhile one to consider, as there are advantages to both. But for those that are tired of glasses and contacts and are looking for a long-term and low-maintenance solution to clear vision, LASIK is an excellent option. If you are ready to see better with your natural eye, reach out to us today at Heart of Texas Eye Institute for a free LASIK consultation.