Why Contacts Are More Risky Than LASIK: 4 Serious Contact Lens Complications That Jeopardize Eye Health

Contact LensesRecently, a horror story about microscopic bugs (the ancanthamoeba) eating through the corneas of a Taiwanese student made headlines. The young woman, who is now blind in both eyes, unwisely wore limited-wear, disposable contacts for several months, and even went swimming during this period.

While this story should give contact lens wearers pause – the acanthamoeba can survive in tap water, hot tubs and swimming pools – these cases are rare. At the same time, contact lens wearers put their vision at risk every day by:

  • Skipping annual eye health exams.
  • Buying cheap lenses online without a prescription or doctor administered
    lens fitting.
  • Not removing disposable lenses daily.
  • Not following proper lens cleaning procedures.

If you wear contacts, you could easily be putting your eye health at risk for the following complications:

Eye Infections

Key-Whitman Eye Center’s Ophthalmologist and Cornea Specialist Faisal Haq, M.D. commonly sees patients with severe complications due to improper contact lens wear. “Over the years I’ve seen plenty of complications from contact lenses, and the most serious problem is infection. Every week or two I’ll see a patient with a corneal ulcer, which is a direct result of contact lens wear,” Dr. Haq warns.

Unfortunately, people have a false sense of security regarding extended lens wear. According to Dr. Haq, “Most commonly, infection results
because people sleep in their contacts, and this is a growing problem with extended wear contacts, because the manufacturer tells people they can sleep with the contacts.”

In addition, people who don’t properly care for or clean their lenses increase their risk for infection. For this reason, Dr. Haq recommends “people use daily disposables. Just wear them during the day when you need them, and when you get home, wear your glasses.”

Vision Loss and/or Blindness

People need to give their eyes a break from contacts to help ensure eye health. Says Dr. Haq, “Contact lenses cause a deprivation of oxygen to the cornea, this increases the risk of infection, and these infections can be very serious and even sight threatening.”

Dr. Haq stresses, “It’s not just about the right prescription strength. If you’re wearing a contact lens that is too tight, then you can experience more discomfort and dryness, and that can also increase the risk of infection. Getting a proper lens fitting and annual eye health exams can easily reduce this risk.”

One contact lens size does not fit all, which is why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates contact lenses as a medical device, and you need a prescription to purchase them. The FDA advises consumers to be wary of purchasing contacts that are sold over-the-counter or for cosmetic use and not prescribed and fitted by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. A poor fit can cause serious eye damage including decreased vision and blindness according to the FDA.

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC)

Another complication that Dr. Haq often sees is GPC. “This occurswhen patients are allergic to contact lenses. When people contract this condition, large bumps will grow on the inside of their eyelids. The papillae, or growths, really are giant, which makes this condition difficult to get rid of and quite uncomfortable.”

If you experience any eye irritation or see bumps on your eyelids, stop wearing your contacts and contact your eye doctor immediately. The sooner you seek treatment for GPC, the easier the condition will be to treat.

Dry Eye Syndrome 

“We commonly see dry eye problems in patients who wear contacts, and wearing contacts definitely makes dry eye syndrome worse. A lot of people can’t tolerate wearing contacts due to the discomfort dry eye causes,” Dr. Haq says.

Along with discomfort, Dr. Haq finds, “People who wear contacts and have dry eye syndrome can experience abrasions and infections to the cornea as well.” If you experience dryness or discomfort while wearing contacts, talk to your eye doctor about dry eye treatment options before serious complications result.

LASIK surgery can be a safe, cost-effective alternative to contacts

National research published in the Archives of Ophthalmology shows the risk of infection with LASIK is less than the risk of infection with daily contact lens use. “I certainly see a lot more contact lens complications than I see complications from LASIK. I’ve yet to see in my 9 years practicing at Key-Whitman a serious infection from LASIK. I do see many serious infections from contact lens wear,” Dr. Haq says.

LASIK eye surgery also offers many benefits that contact lenses do not. “For most patients, the cost of contact lenses over a lifetime is more than LASIK, and once the surgery is done, it’s done. LASIK is typically much more convenient. In addition, we have a long follow up time now on LASIK patients. Our LASIK eye surgeons have been performing surgery at our Dallas laser eye surgery center since the mid-90s, so we have almost 20 years treating many patients. In our experience it’s been very stable, steady and very safe,” Dr. Haq says.

If you wear contact lenses and haven’t seen your eye doctor in the past year, schedule an annual eye exam right away. Ongoing vision care is critical for maintaining healthy eyesight, and he or she can help you weigh your eye care options regarding safe contact lenses, eyeglasses and LASIK surgery.