Long-Term Safety of LASIK vs. Contact Lenses
Prevailing wisdom states that contact lenses are safer than LASIK for vision correction – but as time goes by, we’ve learned new things to challenge this belief.
Board-certified ophthalmologist Dr. Brian Will notes that contact lens wearers are more likely than LASIK surgery patients to develop complications that eventually lead to vision loss. Based on medical reviews of several extensive studies, daily contact lens wearers have a 1% chance of developing a severe lens-related eye infection over 30 years – compared to a one-in-2,000 chance of suffering significant vision loss due to LASIK.
Direct Comparisons Are Challenging
Between 20 and 25 million people in the United States wear contact lenses. About a million Americans have LASIK to correct their vision each year. Unfortunately, eye doctors throughout America have experienced several contact lens patients losing their eyes from infections.
Direct comparisons of the risks vs. rewards of contacts and LASIK have been difficult because surgical complications are immediate and associated risks with contact lenses accumulate over several years.
The risks associated with long-term contact lenses are more significant when people wear them incorrectly or fail to clean them thoroughly. Still, potential issues remain even when wearers do everything right.
Almost every contact lens wearer violates some principle of proper use at some point. For example, they might neglect to wash their hands before handling their lenses or use tap water instead of a sterile solution for storage. Sleeping with your contacts in can dramatically increase the risk of eye infection.
One out of 10,000 daily contact lens wearers will develop a severe infection over a year. That risk jumps to one in 1,000 for wearers who sleep in their contacts. Therefore, Dr. Will advises his contact lens patients never to sleep with their contacts, even if it’s supposedly safe to do so.
Customized Laser Surgery
Over the past 15 years, LASIK surgery techniques have continued evolving, and better training has reduced the incidence of nighttime vision problems and other complications that were prevalent years ago.
One significant advance was the introduction of Wavefront LASIK, allowing eye surgeons to customize the procedure for each eye. Dr. Jim Salz, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southern California, noted that the risks of contact lenses and having LASIK are probably similar. “In many cases, the decision comes down to patient preference,” he said.
He added that advances in laser surgery and contact lens technology should make each vision correction approach safer in years to come.