Guide to Contact Lenses, Glasses, and Laser Eye Surgery
Updated for 2024
You might think that the choice between contact lenses, glasses, and Laser Eye Surgery is pretty straightforward. But your opinion can vary based on a wide range of factors.
Depending on who you ask, the news articles you read, and even your stage in life, your opinions on Laser Eye Surgery and how it compares with glasses and contact lenses can vary significantly. So, here at London Vision Clinic, we’re on a mission to set the record straight.
In this comprehensive guide, we will be covering the pros and cons – and perhaps busting some myths along the way – of all these options to help you make the right choice for you.
A Quick Overview
This can be a bit of a long-winded and overwhelming topic; so, before we get into the finer details, let’s take a look at a brief overview of each of these three popular options.
Glasses: Convenient but limited vision correction
We have been using glasses for hundreds of years, either to magnify text or as a solution to long-sightedness, short-sightedness, and myopia. There is a good reason for this enduring popularity – they are effective!
Furthermore, glasses are generally considered to offer a widely available and low-cost solution to visual impairments. Yet, few people are under the illusion that glasses are without limits.
Most glasses wearers are well aware of the shortcomings of their frames. They can prevent us from performing certain activities, sports and even some types of work. They are also easily damaged and misplaced and, although they might seem like the cheapest option initially, they can end up costing us much more than we realise over a lifetime.
Contact Lenses: Clear vision, but at an unexpected cost
Since their commercialisation in the mid-late 20th century, contact lenses have become an increasingly popular option. This popularity can largely be attributed to their combined appeal of being both effective and discrete. In fact, contact lenses often offer greater improvements in visual acuity and field of vision when compared to glasses. But again, it’s not all smooth sailing.
Many contact lens wearers are unaware of the high risks posed by their chosen form of vision correction. But contact lenses can be associated with eye infections, dry eyes, irritation and redness, and other damage to the eyes – even when used properly and following rigorous hygiene practices. Furthermore, despite their widespread availability, they are not suitable for everyone and they may be the most expensive form of correction when assessed over the long term.
Laser Eye Surgery: The new(ish) way to improve your vision
While glasses and contact lenses are temporary solutions to visual impairment, Laser Eye Surgery addresses refractive errors at the source. The changes made during a Laser Eye Surgery procedure are permanent and can improve your vision for years to come – often to an even higher degree than contact lenses or glasses! The short recovery time also means that most patients can get back to their favourite activities (including sports and driving) shortly after their treatment.
Still, Laser Eye Surgery can have its drawbacks. For many people, the high upfront cost can be a deterrent (though it may actually be cheaper than glasses and contact lenses in the long term). Furthermore, Laser Eye Surgery presents some new risks and the treatment is not suitable for everybody.
A More In-Depth Comparison
While there are only limited choices when it comes to vision correction, many people will find that they never consciously chose their initial method of correction. This might have even been chosen for you – particularly if you required visual aids as a child. In other cases, you may have resorted to whichever option was most accessible to you at the time. Others may have moved from one form of vision correction to another. For example, some glasses wearers may convert to contact lenses because they dislike the appearance of glasses or contact lens wearers may become fed up with the upkeep of their lens routine and opt for glasses instead.
Others will eventually realise that there is another alternative – Laser Eye Surgery. If you have found yourself in this position, you may still be a little uncertain of the pros and cons of Laser Eye Surgery when compared with glasses and contact lenses. So, where do you go to get all the information you need?
While online forums can be useful and insightful when it comes to some topics, it is important to remember that they are often anecdotal and unreliable. Similarly, news websites tend to feature sensationalized and inflated tales, and blogs are often written with the ulterior motive of selling you something.
Is it too much to ask to find a clear, impartial overview and comparison of the main methods you can use to improve your vision?
It turns out it is. So we decided to make one.
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, we are a Laser Eye Surgery clinic. However, unlike some other providers, we aim, first and foremost, to be advocates for the general advancement of vision correction. We are driven by an ambition to bring clear vision to all – whether that be with Laser Eye Surgery or not.
To this end, our vision correction experts are on a mission to make accurate information more accessible – even if this could impact our business.
We know that Laser Eye Surgery isn’t always the right solution. While it is now suitable for more people than ever before, there are still many for whom glasses or contact lenses (or other refractive surgeries) remain the best option. Still, we feel that you should be as informed as possible about every option, so you can be confident you are making the right decision for you.
So, let’s save you the time of trudging through masses of data, opinions and sensationalist news articles and get to the facts. Specifically, let’s take a closer look at how glasses, contact lenses, and Laser Eye Surgery really compare.
Of course, it is important to remember that everyone is different and, as such, this should be taken as a general guide. For a more specific understanding of your options, why not book a consultation with one of our expert clinicians?
So, save yourself some time trudging through masses of data, opinions, and news stories, and carry on reading this article. We’re going to take a look at how glasses, contact lenses, and Laser Eye Surgery compare to one another under different circumstances.
Glasses – Cheap Vision for the Masses
While they might have been around for a long time, glasses remain the most common form of vision correction – and when you take a look at the benefits, it’s easy to see why.
The pros of opting for glasses can include:
- Accurate vision correction at a low cost;
- Wide available and suitable for most people;
- They are safe and unlikely to cause any side effects;
- They can protect your eyes from injury;
- There are several types of glasses to help manage presbyopia;
- At least over the short term, glasses are the cheapest form of vision correction.
A simple glance at this list might be enough to convince you that glasses could come out on top almost across the board. After all, they are suitable for almost everyone, regardless of age, gender, prescription, and even personal style! The fact is that glasses remain a simple, convenient, and accessible solution for most people with refractive errors.
A safe solution
Glasses are also the safest option for vision correction. They are not generally associated with side effects as, being an exterior visual aid, they never touch your eyes at all. In contrast, the contact between contact lenses and the eyes can open the door to eye infections, while Laser Eye Surgery presents potential risks associated with undergoing a surgical procedure.
Furthermore, glasses can even add protection for your eyes, creating a barrier between them and outside elements that could cause damage or affect your vision, such as air pollution, dust and debris, and wind.
Wide scope for vision improvement
But perhaps one of the greatest benefits of glasses is their wide scope of vision correction. Not only are glasses suitable for corrective common refractive errors like myopia (short-sightedness) and hyperopia (long-sightedness), but they also offer an effective solution for presbyopia to improve reading vision. Glasses can be made with a variety of different lenses, including bifocal, trifocal, multifocal, and varifocal progressive lenses to suit each individual.
Glasses – An Overt & Limited Solution?
At this stage, you might think that there is little point in looking into the other options for vision correction. But while glasses are no doubt still a good option, they do have some significant drawbacks.
The cons of glasses can include:
- Their unsuitability for many activities and types of work;
- They are easily damaged and lost;
- Some people find glasses inconvenient, stressful, and/or unattractive;
- Reading glasses are a limited solution to presbyopia;
- They can cost more than Laser Eye Surgery over the long term.
Perhaps the most obvious flaw of glasses is their vulnerability to damage and loss. Not only is it easy to forget where you’ve put them, but their lenses can be easily scratched and scuffed while their protruding arms are quick to come loose and easy to accidentally snap.
Traditional glasses can also place restrictions on certain aspects of your lifestyle. For example, they are unsuitable for use in almost all kinds of exercise and sports, from running to yoga. Avid swimmers may find they have to invest in a pair of prescription goggles and extreme sports such as skydiving and bungee jumping are simply out of the question – at least if you want to be able to see while doing them!
But glasses can get in the way in other areas of your life, too. Some people might find that their impaired vision can prevent them from pursuing certain careers, and when it comes to day-to-day life, there are a surprising number of potential annoyances to be enjoyed. Your lenses will fog up in cold or humid environments, attract dust and dirt, and become obscured whenever it rains.
These inconveniences might not sound like much but over time, they can begin to have an impact on your stress levels and even your quality of life; and these problems can seem even more significant to those who are not used to wearing glasses – for example, those beginning to notice the effects of presbyopia. When “ageing eyes” begin to set in at around the age of 40, the new need for reading glasses can feel like a major lifestyle change that is just impossible to get used to.
Not as cheap as meets the eye
On the face of it, the cost of glasses may not seem that significant – at least if you opt for cheap to mid-range frames. But if the average glasses wearer were to sit down and work out how much they have spent on glasses and associated costs, they would almost definitely be surprised. To give you an idea of the true potential cost of your glasses, we’ve broken down the typical costs over ten years.
For our calculation, we have not included the cost of eye examinations. That’s because you should have an examination every two years regardless of whether you wear contacts or glasses, or have Laser Eye Surgery.
Using an estimated cost of £250 per pair of glasses, being replaced every two years, the average daily cost is calculated at 34.2 pence per day. Over ten years, this puts the cost of your glasses at £1,523.74 (assuming an annual inflation rate of 4.5%).
According to this calculation, glasses do come in cheaper than contact lenses, which is not surprising; however, what is surprising is just how close this could be to the cost of Laser Eye Surgery. This is even more significant when we account for the years of glasses-free vision that you could enjoy with the permanent results of the procedure.
The bottom line is, that the cost of paying for replacements when you’ve misplaced or broken your glasses can quickly add up – especially on top of the cost of regular check-ups, as well as the potential additional costs of prescription sunglasses and prescription sports eyewear.
Contact Lenses: Clear Vision in the Blink of an Eye
Having assessed the pros and cons of glasses, contact lenses may appear to address many of the drawbacks associated with the oldest form of vision correction. For example, some of the key benefits of contact lenses include:
- Offering potentially better visual acuity when compared with glasses;
- Offering a greater and clearer field of vision than glasses;
- They allow wearers to take part in many sports and forms of exercise;
- Some people prefer the discrete appearance of contact lenses to glasses.
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of contact lenses over glasses is their increased accuracy. Unlike glasses, contact lenses are fitted directly onto the eye, allowing them to bend light more accurately to correct your prescription. Many people who switch from glasses to contact lenses are surprised that their visual acuity improves slightly.
It is also possible to get monovision or multifocal lenses, which are designed to reduce the need for reading glasses – an option that many people with presbyopia may benefit from. But that’s not the only way contact lenses can provide clearer vision…
Being applied directly to the eye means that contact lenses are not exposed to external elements such as those mentioned earlier. While glasses lenses can become obstructed by steam, rain, and potential damage, contact lenses are kept protected behind your eyelids. So, you can be sure they will remain safe from greasy fingerprints, scratches, and even glare from light sources!
The lack of restrictive frames that can limit peripheral vision also means that you can make the most of your vision in all directions. But perhaps the greatest benefit of the obstruction-free vision provided by contact lenses is the potential to take part in a whole range of sports and exercises with less disruption or hindrance.
To some people, glasses might be considered another kind of obstruction – an obstruction of personal style. While with glasses you might worry about them matching your outfit or being able to find a suitable style of frames, contact lenses are completely unnoticeable to anyone but the wearer!
Contact Lenses: Rented Vision with an Unexpected Cost
The points laid out above paint a pretty rosy picture of contact lenses – but is that because we’re looking through rose-tinted glasses? (Sorry). Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to contact lenses either. In fact, they can come with some pretty serious downsides:
- Contact lenses put wearers at a high risk of infection and eye damage;
- Wearers may experience dryness, irritation, and redness in the eyes;
- Contact lenses require strict and inconvenient hygiene practices;
- Not everyone can tolerate contact lenses;
- Contact lenses may not be able to fully correct astigmatism;
- Contact lenses often cost more than glasses and Laser Eye Surgery over the long term;
- The plastic waste generated by the millions of lenses discarded every day is bad for the environment.
An Increased Risk of Infection
Many of the pros associated with contact lenses are owed to the fact that they sit directly on the eye, but this may also be the source of their most significant cons. The fact is that, while discrete and convenient, placing a foreign object in your eye is not a particularly hygienic option. As a result, wearing contact lenses – particularly over the long term – can put you at a significantly higher risk of infection and eye damage.
Contact lenses have been linked to several potentially severe and even vision-threatening problems, including corneal infections. According to the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), around 6 in 100,000 contact lens wearers experience vision loss every year. In comparison, vision loss related to glasses is almost nil. Furthermore, vision loss as a result of LASIK (a common Laser Eye Surgery procedure) is extremely rare.
Of course, these risks are exacerbated if you wear your glasses for too long or fail to follow the recommended hygiene practices. Other lifestyle habits, such as sleeping in your lenses, can also increase your risk of infection by up to four times!
As we mentioned in the pros section for contact lenses, one of the most appealing qualities of contact lenses is their relative lack of restrictions. Many wearers can take part in their favourite sports and pastimes without any problems; however, when it comes to anything involving extreme activity or water, this is not the case. That includes swimming, saunas, and even taking a shower! All of these things can prove troublesome for contact lens wearers.
And the restrictions don’t end there. Sitting directly on the eye means that contact lenses disrupt the natural lubrication of the surface cells of the cornea. Essentially, contacts act as a barrier, preventing tears from effectively hydrating the eyes – a problem that can be further exacerbated if you work on a computer or spend a lot of time on your electronic devices. This can lead to significant irritation.
These combined reasons mean that, while often convenient, contact lenses are only considered safe and suitable as a temporary form of vision correction.
“Cosmetic” Contact Lenses
The vast majority of contact lenses are designed as medical aids specifically to be worn by those who require them as a visual aid. However, there is a growing industry of “cosmetic” or “novelty” contact lenses. These lenses are rarely manufactured to the same standards as prescription lenses and, as a result, can have some worrying consequences.
According to laser eye surgeon Mr Glenn Carp, such lenses, which are particularly popular around Halloween, “tend to be larger in size and have a much lower oxygen transmission rate”. In addition, many of these lenses are designed to cover part of the whites of the eye, increasing the chances of problems like acute red eye and infection.
The True Cost of Contact Lenses
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that contact lenses are a more expensive option than glasses. However, they might also be a pricier option than Laser Eye Surgery. Of course, the exact cost can depend on a number of factors, including your prescription age, and how often you use them. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at an example cost of contact lenses based on daily use.
According to Specsavers, the cost of contacts typically ranges from £24 to £55 per month for 30 pairs – and multifocal and toric lenses can cost even more. This means that the average daily contact lens wearer can expect to pay between £288 and £660 per year. Assuming an annual inflation rate of 5.2% your refractive error could end up costing you between £4,780 and £10,030!
Furthermore, many people are increasingly acknowledging the environmental cost of contact lenses. The amount of disposable plastic required to meet the global demand for contact lenses can be a concern as many of us look to limit our waste as much as possible.
Laser Eye Surgery: A Revolutionary Way to Improve & Own Your Vision
So, that brings us to the final option on our list: Laser Eye Surgery. But could it really be all it’s cracked up to be?
Let’s start with some of the most significant benefits of the procedure:
- Unlike glasses or contacts, Laser Eye Surgery is a permanent fix;
- Laser Eye Surgery offers clear and limitation-free vision – even to the most active individuals;
- Laser Eye Surgery is one of the safest elective procedures in the world;
- Over the long term, Laser Eye Surgery may be the cheapest form of vision correction.
A Permanent Solution
Arguably the biggest drawback of both glasses and contact lenses is that they are simply a temporary fix for your refractive error. But with Laser Eye Surgery – that isn’t the case. The results of Laser Eye Surgery are permanent, meaning that you could be enjoying clear, glasses- and contacts-free vision for years to come!
By changing the structure of the eye itself and subsequently eliminating the refractive error, Laser Eye Surgery can also free you from all of the downsides associated with the alternatives. Repairs, replacements, trips to the optometrist, risk of infection, dry eye, irritation, exercise restrictions – all of these can be avoided with Laser Eye Surgery. For the vast majority of patients, this means once you’ve had it done, you can forget about it and get on with your life!
Even Better Results
The results of Laser Eye Surgery are not only permanent but, in many cases, they can actually be better than those achieved by glasses and contact lenses. For example, at London Vision Clinic, One hundred per cent of our patients achieved 20/32 vision or better, with 93% achieving 20/ 20 vision! When it comes to short-sightedness, 98% of patients achieve 20/20 vision!
Clear Vision without Restrictions
If you’re an active person, whether you enjoy a weekly run or pursue a sports-related career, visual aids can be a particular headache. But while glasses and contact lenses come with some significant limitations in this respect, Laser Eye Surgery offers an effective alternative.
Many sportspeople opt for Laser Eye Surgery for this very reason, from swimmers to F1 drivers! Recently, paralympic hand-cycling champion, Karen Darke opted for Laser Eye Surgery to improve her vision during her races. Following her treatment, Karen explained: “I feel to be much more ‘in’ the world again, safer when I ride my bike, and grateful for the bright new world I see every day.”
Since its introduction in the late 1980s, Laser Eye Surgery has become increasingly available – and increasingly suitable for more and more people. Today, Laser Eye Surgery offers an effective solution to the vast majority of people, including those who can’t tolerate contact lenses or have very high prescriptions! At London Vision Clinic, we are proud to be able to offer treatment to up to 98% of the patients we see.
But Laser Eye Surgery isn’t just an option for patients with hyperopia (long-sightedness), myopia (short-sightedness), and astigmatism. With the development of PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision we are also able to treat the natural deterioration of vision that comes with ageing. This allows you to get rid of those pesky reading glasses for good! PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision is incredibly safe and easy to adapt to (especially compared with alternatives), therefore suitable for nearly all patients.
Tens of millions of people around the world have now been successfully treated with Laser Eye Surgery. It has become one of the most common – and safest – elective surgeries, making it an increasingly popular option.
Laser Eye Surgery: An Emerging & Often Difficult to Navigate Market
Laser Eye Surgery is the most significant development in the field of vision correction in history. But while the procedure might have come along way since its inception, there are still some limitations to the treatment.
Some of the potential cons of Laser Eye Surgery include:
- The high upfront cost;
- Some patients are not suitable for Laser Eye Surgery;
- The associated risks as a surgical procedure;
- The market can be difficult to navigate.
Today, Laser Eye Surgery is a suitable treatment for more people than ever before – but there are still some exceptions. Despite the significant development in technology and expertise, there are still some people who are simply not suitable for this procedure. This can be for a range of reasons, from being too young to having an underlying health condition or an ocular condition such as keratoconus.
Depending on the exact cause, you may be either temporarily or permanently unsuitable for treatment. For example, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should postpone treatment as the associated hormones can cause variations in their prescriptions. However, likely, they will once again be suitable for treatment once they have finished breastfeeding.
The Upfront Cost
One of the most pressing concerns people have when it comes to Laser Eye Surgery relates to the cost. It must be acknowledged that the cost of Laser Eye Surgery is not cheap by anyone’s standards. However, as we have demonstrated in this article, this cost can often work out to be equal to – or even cheaper – than the alternatives over the long term. Furthermore, many clinics offer finance options so you can spread the cost of your treatment!
Our Finance Plan allows you to pay for the cost of Laser Eye Surgery through a number of affordable instalments. For more information, visit our Prices page.
As we have mentioned, Laser Eye Surgery is now considered one of the safest elective procedures in the world. This is an incredible feat; however, it is important to remember that this doesn’t mean the procedure is without its risks.
As with any surgical procedure, there is always the slight chance that things may not go 100 per cent as planned. Thankfully, due to the minimally invasive nature of Laser Eye Surgery, combined with our use of cutting-edge technology, this risk is extremely low.
Despite all the developments in Laser Eye Surgery, there remains a huge amount of misinformation and unclear advice surrounding this life-changing treatment. Much of this misinformation derives from competition between clinics and a lack of regulation within the industry.
The good news is, this is slowly changing. With the RCOphth guidelines published in April 2017 and the updated Certificate of Laser Refractive Surgery, there is now more regulation in the Laser Eye Surgery field. Furthermore, more training is now available, including the Postgraduate Diploma in Cataract and Refractive Surgery at Ulster University, with our very own Professor Dan Reinstein on the teaching faculty.
Nonetheless, in the majority of cases, it unfortunately still falls on the individual to be discerning when informing themselves about Laser Eye Surgery. Being sure to choose a high-quality clinic can give you peace of mind that you will receive the very best information and care at every step of your journey.
We hope you found this practical guide to glasses, contacts, and Laser Eye Surgery useful. If you’d like to find out if Laser Eye Surgery could be the best option for you why not get in touch? Alternatively, Book a Consultation today.
This article has been updated for 2024.