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Contact lenses vs laser eye surgery: The advantages and disadvantages

Posted: Jul 05 2016

If, like over half the population, you require vision correction for a problem like myopia (better known as near sightedness or close sightedness), hypermetropia (better known as long sightedness or far sightedness) or an astigmatism, there are three main options open to you: spectacles, contact lenses or laser eye surgery.

Some people choose to wear glasses, which provide a corrective solution without side effects. However, if spectacles do not suit your lifestyle and you’re looking for an option that allows for a more active way of life, better peripheral vision and a natural ‘look’, you’ll need to weigh up the choice between contact lenses vs laser eye surgery.

Pros and cons of contact lenses

Contact lenses are a very common choice, with a wide range of different lenses available on the market. Here are some pros and cons to help you in your decision between contact lenses vs laser eye surgery.

Read more about contact lens problems and alternatives to contact lenses.

Advantages

  • Removable and impermanent: You can take them out whenever you like! If you’re not yet sure which vision correction solution is the best for you, contacts are an option that you can easily experiment with.
  • Coloured lenses: For a strikingly different look, you can wear coloured contacts that effectively change the colour of your irises.
  • Advanced technology: These days, contact lenses can be used to correct even quite complicated visual problems; multifocal lenses catering for multiple prescriptions in one lens are available for those who need them.
  • Low short-term cost: contacts are typically an affordable option, as they don’t cost much up front. However, if you consider the years ahead, the larger outlay required for LASIK surgery may in fact be the more cost effective option.

Disadvantages

  • Hard to handle: Contact lenses can be awkward to put in and take out, and some people do not enjoy manipulating objects that come into direct contact with the eye. Special care needs to be taken to handle the lenses with clean hands.
  • Dry eyes: Dry eyes are a common side effect of wearing contact lenses, because they limit the oxygen supply to the eye.
  • Easy to lose: If you lose your contacts, or forget them when you stay away overnight, there’s not much you can do. You may find yourself carrying a pair of glasses around with you as backup.
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Pros and cons of laser eye surgery

Laser eye surgery is a quick and simple permanent procedure that produces life-enhancing results for patients of all ages.

Advantages

  • Permanent results: Once you have undergone laser eye surgery, your vision will be corrected for good. No more contacts to change daily!
  • Quick to carry out: It takes around 15 minutes to carry out laser eye surgery in one eye.
  • Short recovery time: The typical laser eye surgery recovery time can be as quick as 24 hours.
  • Bladeless surgery: the procedure is painless and non-invasive, carried out using state-of-the-art lasers.

Disadvantages

  • Invasive: Laser eye surgery is a surgical procedure carried out on a healthy organ, so patients will need to consider whether they are comfortable with this. Other options include Z-Lenticule Extraction.
  • More costly upfront: You may choose contact lenses over laser eye surgery due to the cost factor, put off by the higher initial cost of a laser eye surgery procedure. However, when the cost is analysed over one or two decades, it will eventually even out. If you paid for contact lenses over a period of 30 years, the chances are this would turn out to be the costlier option.
  • Side effects: As with any surgical procedure, there is an element of risk in laser eye surgery. This can be reduced by choosing an experienced and reputable surgeon. We’ve written a blog about the potential LASIK surgery risks and how to assess these.

A closer look at the figures

Both laser eye surgery and contact lenses will incur costs. How do these add up? Let’s take a closer look:

The costs of non-surgical vision correction

  • Contact lenses. If you’re buying daily disposable lenses, the average cost is around 90p a day, or £330 a year. Of course, it’s cheaper to buy contacts for monthly use, but then you’ll need to factor in the cost of a cleaning solution.
  • Contact lens solution. If you’re not disposing of your contacts every day, you’ll need to clean them. Contact lens solution costs around £8 for a month’s supply, adding up to just under £100 every year.
  • Prescription glasses. Why shell out for prescription glasses when you already have contacts? Experts recommend that you only wear contact lenses for a maximum of 8 hours in every day. So while you’re not sleeping, you’ll need something to help you see. The price of prescription glasses will vary widely depending on your choice of frames, and added extras like bifocal lenses or UV protection will bring the cost up. A cheap pair of glasses once a year might cost you around £100.
  • Regular eye tests. Our vision changes over time, so it’s important to have regular eye examinations to ensure that your prescription remains accurate. Many people get free eye tests, but if you pay for yours, you might shell out around £25 a time.

Looking at these figures, it’s easy to see how a contact lens user might easily spend upwards of £500 a year on vision correction. So, could laser eye surgery be a cheaper option than contacts?

The cost of laser eye surgery

Laser eye surgery is priced per eye. The actual cost will depend on a few different factors, including your prescription, the type of procedure you opt for, and the expertise of the surgeon. Our laser eye surgery starts at £3,950 for both eyes. Our prices are listed here.

American Academy of Ophthalmology Study

A new study, published in the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, is the first piece of research to analyse patient satisfaction levels for LASIK by comparing them to a control group of contact lens wearers. Here are some of the main findings:

  • LASIK satisfaction rates, significantly higher to start with, remained constant at 1, 2 and 3 years post-surgery.
  • In contrast, contact lens satisfaction decreased over the 3 years of the study.
  • Contact lens wearers experienced more infections and other complications during the course of the study.
  • LASIK patients experienced better night vision than contact lens wearers.
  • Depression was no more common in LASIK patients than the control group.
  • Contact lens wearers were more prone to dry eyes.

What can we conclude from the study?

This is an insightful and informative piece of research for patients considering contact lenses or LASIK. For those put off by the perceived risks of surgery, the results should be reassuring. It can be difficult to predict how we will feel about our treatment in future years, but these unique self-reported insights help practitioners and prospective patients alike to understand the general satisfaction trends among contact lens wearers and LASIK patients.

Future points to consider

Choosing contact lenses or LASIK is a personal decision for each patient and you should discuss it with your specialist. Here are some general points to consider when making your choice:

  • Do you understand what LASIK surgery entails and the costs? Take a look at our page on LASIK surgery to find out more
  • Are you fully informed about the possible side effects of both contact lens wear and LASIK surgery?
  • Has your eye specialist recommended a particular course of action?
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Inform your decision and get in touch with our expert team and we can answer your questions.