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Is LASIK Safer Than Contacts?

Wednesday, May 25 2016 8:54 AM

Contact lenses, although widely used with few complications, can carry risks. It’s important to understand that every time you put your contacts in, you introduce a foreign object onto the ocular surface. This creates an opportunity to contract infection-causing pathogens, viruses, or bacteria.

While minor infections and irritations are fairly common for contact lens wearers, they can also cause more serious problems like ulcers, edema, and alterations to corneal thickness and curvature. Water activities pose the greatest potential risk of infection for contact lens wearers.

What’s in the Water?

Wearing contacts in pools, hot tubs, swimming pools, or lakes increases your risk of picking up acanthamoeba — a single-celled member of the protozoa family.

Before the popularity of soft lenses, acanthamoeba infections were rare. While the number of these infections each year are hard to track (they’re not reported to state health departments or the CDC), there have been increased cases in recent years.

Found in freshwater, acanthamoeba feeds on bacteria for nourishment. When they attach to contact lenses, they can attack the cornea of the eye and begin to digest it.

According to the Journal of Optometry, up to 95 percent of acanthamoeba corneal infections occur in the presence of soft contact lenses. These infections are difficult to treat, are often misdiagnosed, and often cause vision loss. In some instances, a corneal transplant is needed.

It is estimated that 90 percent of the 33 million contact lens wearers in the United States wear soft contact lenses.

LASIK vs. Contacts

In reality, both contact lenses and refractive surgery are low-risk. If you’re taking your lenses out before any type of water activity and practices good hygiene, in all likelihood, you’ll be fine.

There is evidence, however, that refractive surgery is a much better option for the long-term health of your eyes. LASIK carries only the risk of the initial surgery (which is low) while wearing contact lenses spreads the risk of infection over many years.

How many times in their lifetime will a contact lens wearer touch the surface of their eye? Each of those touches is a potential for infection. LASIK, on the other hand, avoids the daily touching of eyes and allows the enjoyment of water activities without the risk or forgetting lenses.  

It is important to note that all surgeries carry a risk; LASIK and PRK are no different. However, for those who are looking for a long-term solution for not only improved vision, but healthier eyes, and a more active lifestyle, LASIK is the best option.

One final note on this debate: Vision-threatening infections are estimated to occur at a rate of 1 in 2,000 for regular contact lens wearers, a .05% chance. In comparison, vision threatening infections occur with LASIK at a rate of 1 in 10,000, a .01% chance. While both carry relatively small chances of infection, LASIK has the clear advantage.

To find out how Grene Laser can help you understand the additional benefits of refractive eye surgery, book a time to talk with a doctor.


Shalee Lehning
"Playing sports is hard enough without worrying about your contacts. The inconvenience of losing contacts during practice and competition was frustrating for me. The decision to have the surgery was the best decision I have made!"
Shalee Lehning, K-State Women's Assistant Coach / Former WNBA and K-State Player - Manhattan, KS

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