PORTLAND, Ore. -- Traditional assumptions have held that contact lenses are safer than laser surgery to correct vision problems. Now, an Oregon Health & Science University Casey Eye Institute physician, comparing data from several recent studies, has found that belief may not be true.
William Mathers, M.D., professor of ophthalmology in the OHSU School of Medicine, reviewed several large, peer-reviewed studies and found a greater chance of suffering vision loss from contact lenses than from laser vision correction surgery, also known as "refractive" surgery. His findings are published in a letter in today's issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.
"Several times a year, I have patients who lose eyes from complications because they've been wearing contacts and they've gotten an infection. By this I mean their eyes have to be physically removed from their bodies," said Mathers, an eye surgeon with a strong background in contact lens issues and former president of the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists. "It's not that contacts aren't good. They're better than they've ever been. But one cannot assume contacts are safer."
The risks associated with laser surgery versus contact lenses can not be compared directly, partly because complications from contact lenses accumulate over years of use, and complications from surgery occur soon after the surgery.
Data extrapolated from a study in Lancet shows the lifetime risk of bacterial keratitis to be 1 in 100 for contact lenses worn daily. Bacterial keratitis is an infection that causes an inflammation of the cornea and can lead to vision loss. Wearing contact lenses overnight or improper care or cleaning further increases the risk of infection from contacts. The risk of bacterial keratitis has changed little over the years for contact lens wearers and is the same worldwide.