LASIK Surgery: Safer Than Contacts?
Analysis Shows Higher Long-Term Risk of Infections for Contact Lens Wearers
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 10, 2006 -- The widely held belief that wearing contact lenses is safer
than having laser surgery for vision correction is being challenged.
A leading eye doctor says contact lens users are actually more likely to
develop complications that lead to vision loss over time than patients who have
Based on their review of several large studies, ophthalmologist William
Mathers, MD, and colleagues concluded that daily contact lens wearers have
about a one in 100 chance of developing a serious lens-related eye infection
over 30 years of use, and a one in 2,000 chance of suffering significant vision
loss as a result.
The researchers calculated the risk of significant vision loss due to LASIK
surgery to be closer to one in 10,000 cases. They reported their findings in a
letter published this month in the journal Archives of
"One shouldn't just assume that contacts are safer," Mathers tells
WebMD. "This may have been true at one time, but for the average person
this is certainly not the case anymore."
Direct Comparisons Difficult
Between 20 and 25 million people in the U.S. wear contact lenses; about a
million Americans have laser surgery to correct vision problems each year.
Mathers is an eye surgeon who specializes in treating vision-threatening eye
infections at the Oregon Health & Science University's Casey Eye Institute
"Several times a year, I have patients who lose eyes from complications
because they've been wearing contacts and they've gotten an infection," he
says. "By this I mean their eye has to be physically removed from their
Direct comparisons of the risks vs. benefits of contacts and laser surgery
have been difficult because surgical complications are immediate and the risks
associated with contact lenses accumulate over many years.
The risks associated with long-term use of contact lenses are greater when
lenses are used improperly, but they remain even when wearers do everything
right, Mathers says.
"Almost everyone who wears contact lenses violates some principle of
proper use at some point," he says. "Either they don't wash their hands
before putting them in or they use tap water [to store the lenses]. But
infections can occur even when this doesn't happen."