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LASIK vs. Contact Lenses: Costs and Risks of Each

Created on: Saturday, May 30, 2015

Clear vision is important to just about everyone, and contact lens wearers typically spend $60-$100/month to "rent" the privilege of good vision.  Further, contacts do carry a significant lifetime risk of vision loss from infections or scarring. Indeed, from a published review of large data sets, it would seem that contact lens wearers incur a 1 in 1000 risk of significant loss of vision just from bacterial or parasitic infections, which does not include risks from scarring, scratches, blood vessel invasion, or fungal infection.  This is more than 10 times higher the risk of significant loss of vision from LASIK by an experienced surgeon in a facility with excellent equipment and a careful screening consultation and process which ensures good candidacy.  LASIK does induce dry eye and may cause some haloes for a few months and like any surgery, has risks such as infection, but it seems as if its risks are actually less than those of contact lens wear. From a cost perspective, while LASIK is a signficant upfront expense (on average about $2000/eye nationwide), for most contact lens wearers at least, "owning your vision" with LASIK (which can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism) would seem to substantially reduce cost over the long-term. As the price of glasses increases, the same may be true for patients with glasses as well.  For patients interested in LASIK, remember that:

1. Your corrective prescription should be stable, so I would not advise LASIK for someone under the age of 21 as the eye is still growing.

2. You should not have major eye diseases  (e.g., cataract, glaucoma, diabetic eye damage, chronic herpes infection), although patients with these may still be candidates for lifestyle lens implant technology or intraocular contact lenses

3. It is important to see a physician who is experienced and performs a thorough evaluation of your eye, including assessment of corneal shape (both the front and back of the cornea), corneal thickness, full dilated exam, and check of your prescription before and after dilation. To be a good candidate, the amount of correction, pre- and post-LASIK corneal thickness, and corneal shape are all critical elements of the evaluation process. 

4. All-laser LASIK (with the flap being made by a laser) is very helpful for minimizing risks and hastening corneal healing. 

5. Choose a practice that competes on quality and value (practices competing on price tend not to carefully screen and/or tend to nickel-and dime patients on higher levels of correction, treatment of astigmatism, etc.)

6. LASIK does not affect the health of the rest of the eye (e.g., development of macular degeneration in your 70s or 80s, need for help with reading up close in the 40s or 50s).

7. Choose a physician who is familiar and experienced with LASIK alternatives in case you are not a good candidate for LASIK but might be for a different corrective procedure. 


For a brief overview of the LASIK, please see this video


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