LASIK vs. Daily Contact Lens Wear:
Factors to Consider Beyond Convenience
The reality of life is unfortunate: very few of us have perfect vision. However, what is fortunate is that we live in an era where there are a variety of ways in which our imperfect vision may be improved or corrected. In 2019, patients typically decide between wearing eye glasses, daily contact lenses or opting for one of two refractive surgery options. For some patients, career requirements make some options better than others. Military personal and first responders, for example, often choose refractive surgery due to safety considerations: one does not want to be running into a burning building and risk losing one’s glasses. But for most individuals, this decision is based on convenience: which vision correction choice will allow me to maintain my hobbies and activities or simply function in everyday life in the most convenient and least annoying way possible? However, besides convenience, there are two other important factors that should be considered when making a choice between refractive surgery and long-term corrective lens wear: safety and cost effectiveness.
LASIK vs Contacts: Start with Safety
Let’s consider safety first. One of the key dangers of contact lens wear is improper use and maintenance. Despite the warnings of prescribing optometrists and ophthalmologists, many contact lens wearers fail to follow recommendations on contact lens wear time and replacement, including removing contact lenses at night before going to sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control, failing to disinfect contact lenses and cases, storing or rinsing lenses in water instead of disinfecting solution and using contaminated contact lens solution or “topping off” used solution rather than discarding and replacing are common among contact lens wearers. Unsafe contact lens wear and maintenance can lead to an infection known as bacterial keratitis, which in turn can lead to a corneal ulcer- quite simply, a hole in the surface of the eye that can cause life-long limitation or even loss of vision. Long term contact lens wear is also known to lead to an increase in the risk of developing chronic dry eye. Contact lenses are thought to alter the protein concentration in tear film and possibly change the structure of the meibomian gland (the gland responsible for producing a substance called meibum, which gives rise to the lipids in tear film). Application of a contact lens to the surface of the eye results in changes to the tear film thickness which in turn leads to increased friction between the contact lens and eye surface. In contrast to these potential problems associated with long-term contact lens wear, advances in technology and more experienced surgeons have reduced the risks formerly associated with refractive surgery. Although no surgical procedure can be considered 100% risk-free, refractive surgery has become increasingly safe. According to the American Refractive Surgery Council, less than 1% of patients experience surgical complications during their LASIK procedure.
In addition to the advantages of avoiding contact lens wear associated infection and dry eye, those considering refractive surgery as an option for vision correction might be surprised to learn that refractive surgery may also be the more cost-effective option in the long-term. First, there is the cost of the contact lenses themselves, which varies from lens to lens, with specialty lenses required to correct astigmatism or presbyopia frequently costing more. Disposable soft contact lenses prescribed for nearsighted patients, if replaced every two weeks, commonly cost between $220 and $260 per year. Daily disposable contact lenses can range in price from $480-$720 per year. Responsible contact lens wear includes not only replacing lenses as directed by your prescribing optometrist or ophthalmologist, but also using the appropriate contact lens cleaning and storage solutions, owning a pair of back-up spectacles and regular visits to your eye doctor to check in on eye health and changes in prescription. A one-year supply of contact lens cleaning and storage solutions may cost between $150 and $200. The cost associated with owning back-up spectacles and visits to the eye doctor vary based on vision insurance status but should be considered as well and could cost around $400 per year. In all, many estimators place daily contact lens wear cost around $500-$700 per year. Assuming 35 years of contact lens wear, that’s a $17,500- $24,500 cost associated with wearing corrective contact lenses. On the other hand, according to a study performed by Abbott Medical Optics, Inc., the typical patient could save $13,000-$17,000 in contact lens-associated costs by having refractive surgery in their early 30s- and savings are even greater for patients having refractive surgery in their 20s. It should be pointed out that there is a wide range in cost of refractive surgery from one clinic to another, but at the NW Cornea Institute, patients of Drs. Terry, Straiko and Sanchez can expect to pay approximately $2,500 per eye for their refractive procedure. This includes preoperative visits, the surgery itself, a year of follow-up care after the procedure and enhancements, if necessary. (Please contact our refractive surgery coordinator, Christina Kelley, for exact pricing. In many cases, discounts may apply.) As you can see, although refractive surgery involves a higher up-front investment, over time it may actually be considered a money-saving procedure.
Deciding Between LASIK vs Contacts
Determining if refractive surgery is the best option for you is a complex process that should involve careful consideration. Career and lifestyle needs, safety and cost are all a part of the decision-making process. The first step is to meet with a qualified surgeon to determine if you are a good candidate. At NW Cornea Institute, our surgeons are all cornea-fellowship trained, meaning that they are Portland ophthalmologists who have opted for additional training in the cornea, the surface of the eye that is altered during a refractive procedure, be it LASIK or PRK. If refractive surgery is an option that you would like to consider for improving your less-than-perfect vision, please contact Christina Kelley, refractive surgery coordinator, at 503-413-6540 to arrange for your consultation.