Spectacles, Contact Lenses and Laser Eye Surgery: A Comparison
The Royal College of Opthalmologists states: “Focusing errors such as short-sightedness, astigmatism, and long-sightedness are usually corrected by wearing spectacles or contact lenses. Over the years a number of surgical techniques have been used to treat refractive errors and reduce the need for glasses. The most common treatment uses an excimer laser.”
A visit to your Optician can help you to make a more informed decision on whether spectacles, contact lenses or laser eye surgery would work best for you, but to help you compare the three options, here are some facts:
From basic reading glasses to designer varifocals, you can pay as much or as little as you like for your specs. You may wish to go for special coatings to eliminate glare or even have photochromic lenses that react to protect your eyes from bright sunlight. Whatever you choose, glasses offer many advantages:
- They are easily cleaned and there is no need to risk introducing eye infection by having to touch your eyes to wear them.
- Glasses work out less expensive in the long run as they don’t need replacing so often.
- If you suffer from dry eyes, and many people over 50 do, glasses won’t aggravate the problem, unlike contact lenses.
- They perch about half an inch from your eyes, so peripheral vision can be distorted.
- If you have a strong prescription they may make your eyes appear magnified.
- Spectacles can get fogged up when you are cooking and open the oven, or if you are out in the rain and snow you can find yourself unable to see through your lenses.
There are various types of contact lens available: daily use, disposable or re-useable. The cost of contacts varies considerably and is to a great extent dependent upon your prescription. You can order lenses online or purchase in-store from your optician.
- Contacts sit directly on your eye so peripheral vision is not obstructed.
- They are good for certain types of exercise when specs would be a problem.
- There may be occasions when for cosmetic reasons you would just rather not wear glasses.
- They are not affected by the weather and will not fog up in the cold.
- Some people have trouble applying the lens to their eye and need to practice for a while.
- Contact lenses restrict the amount of oxygen around your eyes and can make dry eye syndrome worse in some cases.
- If you spend a lot of time at computer screens, contact lenses will contribute to a condition known as computer vision syndrome.
Laser Eye Surgery
The first thing you need to do is to have an eye examination to establish if your prescription makes you a suitable candidate. As this type of surgery is usually considered non-essential, it is not generally available on the NHS and you can expect to pay in the region of £2,000 per eye for laser surgery.
According to the NICE guidelines, “Current evidence suggests that photorefractive (laser) surgery for the correction of refractive error is safe and efficacious for use in appropriately selected patients”.
However, as with all surgical procedures, there are some possible risks involved. NHS Choices state that complications occur in less than 5% of cases but that you should check with your consultant that they have outlined all the risks involved.
- Corrects vision in most cases.
- The effect is almost immediate.
- The procedure is associated with very little pain.
- Recovery is quick and usually no bandages or stitches are required.
- Dry eyes in the months following surgery. Artificial tears can help alleviate this.
- Night driving can be a problem with some people experiencing glare or a halo effect. One in 3 people patients will still need glasses for night driving.
- It is rare but some thinning of the eye wall can make the shape of the eye unstable following treatment.
The Royal College of Opthalmologists recommend that doctors performing laser eye surgery should be registered opthalmologists and have additional specialist training in laser refractive surgery.
They advise that even when wishing to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist working in the independent sector that you seek a referral via your GP who will know the specialists in your area and can pass on relevant medical history to the surgeon. For more information see: Patient Guide to Excimer Laser Refractive Surgery 2011.