Contact Lens vs Glasses vs Laser Eye Surgery

Updated for 2022

You would think it’s pretty easy to work out which is better: contact lenses, glasses, or Laser Eye Surgery.

But depending on who you ask, what they’ve experienced and read, what stage of life they are in, and who they work for, you may get a differing set of facts and opinions.


By all means, the read the full article, but the key points in this article can be summarised as:

Glasses: Cheap vision correction but limited

  • Glasses provide accurate vision at a low cost that most people can wear, and they are available everywhere. Glasses can also protect your eyes from injury.
  • However, glasses are unsuitable for many activities and types of work, easily damaged or lost, and many find them inconvenient or unattractive. Reading glasses are often a limited solution to presbyopia. Over a lifetime, glasses can cost more than Laser Eye Surgery.

Contact Lenses: Clear vision, but at a unexpected cost

  • Contact lenses can improve visual acuity, greater and clearer field of vision vs glasses. They are mostly invisible to the naked eye.
  • But, contact lenses put wearers at a high risk of infection, eye damage, dry-eye, irritation and redness even when following a rigorous hygiene practice. They are not suitable for all people, may struggle to correct astigmatism, and are the most expensive eye correction option over the long term.

Laser Eye Surgery: The new(ish) way to improve your vision

  • Laser Eye Surgery permanently adjusts your vision, and you may achieve a better visual acuity than with glasses or contacts. It is suitable for sports and activities that glasses or contacts are not. Laser Eye Surgery is one of the safest elective procedures globally and, over the long term, maybe the lowest cost.
  • Still, Laser Eye Surgery has a higher upfront cost, introduces some risks, and not everyone is suitable. Choosing a clinic is a good deal trickier, too.


Most people don’t consciously choose their initial vision-correction method, it is often chosen for them (maybe as kids), or they default to trying on specs. Perhaps they gravitate to contact lens’, or a mixture of the two. But, they may decide to take stock and look at the alternatives at some point. But where to look? Where to go to find out the pros and cons?

This is especially the case when you turn to the internet for answers. Forums are generally unreliable and anecdotal; news websites are typically inflated and biased. Blog articles are frequently written with the sole intention 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.

Yes, we are a Laser Eye Surgery clinic, to be completely upfront. But first and foremost, we are advocates in the advancement of vision correction and are driven by the intention of bringing better vision to all.

This means we disseminate accurate information regardless of how it impacts our business. We know that glasses are better in some areas for some people, that contact lenses offer an improvement in other areas for other people, and that the same goes for Laser Eye Surgery.

So, to help save you time trudging through masses of data and forums and opinions, we’re simply going to lay out the facts so you can make up your own mind.

In this guide, we’re going to look at the cases for and against glasses, contacts, and Laser Eye Surgery, and in doing so see how they compare to one another. Of course, some of the points are dependent on your particular circumstances and history, so they’re to be taken as a general guideline based on the average person’s experience.

The Case For Glasses: Cheap Vision For The Masses

  • Glasses provide accurate vision at a low cost
  • Most people can wear them and they are available to buy everywhere
  • Glasses are safe and unlikely to cause any side effects
  • Glasses 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

Glasses unquestionably come out on top in many areas, at least when compared to contact lenses. But, perhaps the most significant benefit of glasses is the reason they’re so ubiquitous: pretty much anyone can wear them, regardless of age, prescription, or fashion preferences, making them a simple, quick, and accessible solution to managing vision problems.

Overall, they’re also the safest form of vision correction; they don’t touch or change your eye in any way, meaning they don’t require going to a clinic for a procedure like Laser Eye Surgery or they don’t put you at the risk of infection like contact lenses.

They may even act as a barrier between your eyes and the elements, helping prevent air pollution, dust, and debris from causing damage and harming your vision. Another significant advantage of glasses is they’re not only able to correct for distance or near vision but also offer a way to manage presbyopia or reading vision.

They do this in different ways using lens types such as bifocal, trifocal, multifocal, and varifocal progressive lenses.

On a final note, many think that glasses don’t suit them and look silly, but there’s a huge trend for wearing non-prescription glasses simply to look good. Celebrities including Ed Sheeran, Jessica Alba, Tina Fey, Emma Watson, and Elton John all wear glasses even though they don’t need to, and no matter what your style you’re sure to find a pair to match.

The Case Against Glasses: The Overt & Limited Solution

  • Glasses are unsuitable for many activities and types of work
  • Glasses are easily damaged and lost
  • Some people find glasses inconvenient, stressful, and/or unattractive
  • Reading glasses are a limited solution to presbyopia
  • Over the long term, glasses can cost more than Laser Eye Surgery

Whereas glasses offer a quick and easy way to adjust and improve your vision— they don’t come without their fair share of downsides.

One major downside to wearing glasses is they’re simply unsuitable for most (if not all) sports, exercise, and any activity or job that involves movement.

Glasses are not attached to anything, so they can move around or fall off, lenses get scratched and cracked, arms come loose and snap, and pair after pair get lost.

Specific sports like swimming and professions like firefighting can bring their own issues. Whilst it’s true that you can often wear prescription eyewear, these have their limitations, and many people end up going with the easier, but far from ideal, solution of contact lenses to avoid the hassle.

When it comes to day-to-day life, glasses also cause semi-permanent marks on your nose, fog up in cold or humid environments, attract dust and dirt, and be the source of lots of little but cumulative annoyances that can have an impact on your stress levels and quality of life.

Many people simply get used to these problems and fit their lives around glasses. But many don’t, particularly if you need them only for reading vision.

Whether it’s bifocals, trifocals, or progressive lenses, glasses are a tool that can help you get around it.

As presbyopia creeps in around your early 40s, the decreased ability to read, reading glasses are a sure sign of being over the hill.

Aside from the above, the main cost of glasses is on your wallet. We calculated exactly how much glasses could cost you over ten years.

In the calculation, the cost of eye examinations is not included as you should have one every two years no matter if you wear contacts, glasses, or have Laser Eye Surgery.

With the price of one pair of glasses estimated at between £250 and £500, replaced every two years, the average daily cost of wearing glasses is calculated at 34.2p per day on the low end and 69.4p per day on the high end.

Over ten years that makes the cost of glasses £1,523.74 on the low side, and £3,047.48 on the high side (assuming a yearly inflation rate of 4.5%). It works out that glasses typically cost a bit less than contacts, but often cost more than Laser Eye Surgery, as it is a one-off cost for a treatment that provides permanent changes to your vision. This is also not considering the possibility of using spare glasses, prescription sunglasses, or prescription sports eyewear – the cost sure adds up.

The Case For Contact Lenses: Clear Vision In The Blink of An Eye

  • Compared to glasses, contact lenses can offer slightly better visual acuity
  • Contact lenses offer a greater and clearer field of vision than glasses
  • Contact lenses allow wearers to take part in many sports and forms of exercise
  • Some people prefer how contacts look over glasses

As an evolution of the humble but world-changing spectacles, contact lenses provide a ready solution to many drawbacks.

For starters, although they have the same strength and focusing power, contacts are much closer to the eye than glasses. This means they bend light in a way that more accurately meets your prescription, and so if you switch from glasses to contacts, they can appear to slightly increase your visual acuity.

Another reason contacts can appear to provide better vision than glasses is the fact that glasses are exposed to the elements. The glass lenses are magnets for dirt and debris, are easily smeared by fingerprints, and love picking up scratches and blemishes. They also catch the glare of lights and become foggy with any sudden temperature change.

Limited peripheral vision can also play a part. Because contacts are globe-shaped and leave no space between them and your eye, you can look up, down, left, right, and have complete and clear peripheral vision without having to peer through a restrictive frame.

Of course, one of the most significant advantages of contacts is that, unlike glasses, wearers can take part in a whole range of sport and exercise with less disruption or hindrance.

Contact lenses are more or less invisible for those looking at them from the outside, so you won’t have to worry about them looking silly or matching your outfit. And yet, if you really like how you look in glasses, you always have the option to get a non-prescription pair.

What’s more, because they’re so inconspicuous, no-one will know you need them unless you tell them. This is one reason some people, age 40 and older, may choose monovision or multifocal contact lenses, which are designed in a way to reduce the need for reading glasses.

The Case Against Contact Lenses: Rented Vision That Comes With An Unexpected Cost

  • Contact lenses put wearers at a high risk of infection and eye damage
  • It is not uncommon for wearers to experience dryness, irritation, and redness
  • Contact lenses require a strict and inconvenient hygiene practice
  • The adverse effects of contact lenses are exacerbated by lifestyle factors
  • Contact lenses are not tolerated by many people
  • Contact lenses may not be able to fully correct astigmatism
  • Over the long term, contact lenses typically cost more than glasses and Laser Eye Surgery
  • The plastic waste generated by the millions of lens discarded every day is bad for the environment

The most significant advantage of contacts — that they sit directly on the eye — also happens to be their most significant disadvantage.

The fact is that using your finger to place a foreign object on the surface of your eye is not healthy or hygienic. The result is that contact lens use, particularly over the long term, puts you at high risk for infection and eye damage.

This includes severe and vision-threatening problems such as a corneal infection. According to information from the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), such conditions are characterised by irritation, pain, redness, watery eyes, or discharge.

Information from the BCLA states that vision loss due to corneal infection from contact lenses affects around 6 in 100,000 wearers annually. Vision loss as a result of glasses misuse is, as you’d expect, almost nil, and vision loss as a result of LASIK is extremely rare — with the chances of complete vision loss being so unlikely (providing you go to a high-quality clinic) that it’s almost impossible to put a figure on it.

Such problems are even more likely to occur if you wear your contacts for too long or fail to follow the recommended hygiene practices. Poor hygiene, along with sleeping in your contacts, further increases the chances of infection by up to four times.

Certain habits and lifestyles may also increase your chances of infection. For example, for those who are partial to a cigarette or two, studies show that if you smoke, the risk of infection is three times higher than if you don’t.

Anything involving extreme activities or water  — including the shower and the sauna — can prove troublesome.

For these reasons, contact lenses are considered safe and suitable only as a temporary form of vision correction. Contacts disrupt the natural interaction between the tears and the surface cells of the cornea, and so the chances of experiencing problems such as irritation and dry eye are almost inevitable — particularly if you work on a computer or spend a lot of time on your devices.

Contact lenses are designed only to be worn by people who need visual aid and have thoroughly considered their risks, and are being monitored by qualified professionals. But today, there is a growing industry of ‘cosmetic’ lenses with some worrying consequences.

Such cosmetic lenses like coloured or ‘big eye’ lenses, according to laser eye surgeon Mr Glenn Carp, “tend to be larger in size and have a much lower oxygen transmission rate”. In addition, rather than being completely clear, many cover part of the whites of the eye and increase the chances of problems like acute red-eye and infection.

Contact lenses tend to be the most costly form of vision correction. But it can depend on your prescription, age, and how often you use them. The cost is not just financial, the amount of plastic waste generated over a lifetime of contact lens wear is really not good for the environment.

According to Adrian Knowles of the Eyecare Trust, a UK charity for raising awareness of eye health, “if you work out the cost of a year’s supply of daily disposable lenses, it comes out at about 90p per day.”

When you spread that out over a year, it comes to about £325. So over ten years, assuming there’s no inflation, that’s £3,250.

With the cost rising to £5000 in just fifteen years, that’s similar to the highest-quality Laser Eye Surgery treatment, which as well as avoiding the risks of infection, comes with a whole host of other advantages.

The Case for Laser Eye Surgery: A Revolutionary Way to Improve & Own Your Vision

  • Unlike glasses or contacts, Laser Eye Surgery is not a temporary fix but permanently adjusts your vision
  • Many patients achieve a higher visual acuity from Laser Eye Surgery than is possible with glasses or contacts
  • Laser Eye Surgery offers sportsmen and women and anyone who is active clear and limitation-free vision
  • 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

The main difference between glasses, contacts, and Laser Eye Surgery is that it doesn’t temporarily adjust your vision by adding an additional lens on top of the eye. Rather, it permanently changes it by eliminating the refractive errors.

The first major benefit of this is that it frees you from having to wear glasses and contacts and, as a result, deal with all their drawbacks. Repairs, replacements, trips to the optometrist, risk of infection, dry eye, irritation, limits on exercise, stress — Laser Eye Surgery is the most convenient form of vision correction out there as once you’ve had it done, you can forget about it and get on with your life.

Virtually 100 percent of patients who receive the standard treatment of LASIK achieve 20/40 vision, and over 95 percent achieve 20/20 or better.

It’s not uncommon for patients to reach an even higher level of vision with Laser Eye Surgery. For example, 97 per cent of our short-sighted patients see 20/20 or better, including those who see 20/16 or even 20/12.5.

Many sportsmen and women opt for Laser Eye Surgery for this very reason. Recently, paralympic hand-cycling champion, Karen Darke had surgery to improve her vision during her races.

Laser Eye Surgery is also an increasingly viable option for people with prescriptions that have struggled to find a suitable form of vision correction. With newer treatments like ReLEx SMILE, even very high prescriptions can be safely treated.

The versatility of the treatment also means it has, for the first time, afforded people a real solution to getting rid of reading glasses. PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision is considered by many experts to be the most effective way to alleviate the symptoms of presbyopia.

PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision is incredibly safe and easy to adapt to, therefore suitable for nearly all patients (98 per cent).

On that note, having now been performed on over 35 million people, Laser Eye Surgery as a whole is a well-established treatment and considered by experts as one of the safest and most effective forms of elective surgery in the world. And even though it comes at a high upfront cost, it often works out to be the same or cheaper than contacts or glasses over the long term. This is also backed up by patient satisfaction and quality of life, with Laser Eye Surgery patients reporting a significant improvement in the quality of life after surgery.

The Case Against Laser Eye Surgery: An Emerging & Often Difficult to Navigate Market

  • Laser Eye Surgery has a high upfront cost
  • Some patients are not suitable for Laser Eye Surgery
  • Laser Eye Surgery is a surgical procedure that comes with some risk
  • The market can be difficult to navigate

As the latest development in the field of vision correction, Laser Eye Surgery has fewer downsides than contacts and glasses. However, it is not without its limitations.

For starters, some people are simply not suitable for Laser Eye Surgery. This could be due to not being old enough, being pregnant, or having certain medical or ocular conditions such as keratoconus. Depending on the exact cause, it can mean you are temporarily or permanently unsuitable for treatment.

In terms of the treatment itself, one of the first limits that can’t be avoided is its high upfront cost compared to contacts and glasses.

One of the central questions related to Laser Eye Surgery is the chance of something going wrong during the treatment or things not turning out quite as you expected.

As with any surgical procedure, there is a  slight chance of things not going 100 per cent as planned. However, as Laser Eye Surgery is a minimally invasive procedure built on cutting edge technology, the risk of human error is minimised, and the chances of complications arising are extremely low.

This leads us to the final point: there is much misinformation and unclear advice around Laser Eye Surgery, which is in large part due to the high amount of competition between clinics and the lack of longevity of regulation within the industry. However, there is now more regulation with the RCOphth guidelines published in April 2017 and the updated Certificate of Laser Refractive Surgery, as well as more training available such as the Postgraduate Diploma in Cataract and Refractive Surgery at Ulster University, with Prof Reinstein on the teaching faculty.

This means it is up to the individual to be discerning about where they get their information from and also to inform themselves how to seek out a high-quality Laser Eye Surgery clinic. That way, you can avoid getting lost and led astray by misinformation and make up your own mind about which vision correction method is best for you.

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?