Joel Hunter, MD Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 01/17/18 8:16 AM
The short answer to this is that contact lenses usually aren’t bad for your eyes. Of course, a quick glance at all the words below this line will tell you that the short answer isn’t the entire answer. Wearing contacts is a little bit like riding in a car without a seat belt. It’s okay until it isn’t.
You may think, “that’s an unfair comparison!” And, well, okay I admit it; you’re absolutely correct in thinking that. But the reason it’s unfair is because the consequence is infinitely greater with one than the other. An eye problem doesn’t compare with the possibility of death. The chances of having one of those consequences, however, is really fair. Any one car ride is unlikely to be the one where there is a crash, just as any one time wearing contacts is unlikely to cause an infection or inflammation. It’s the repeated low-risk activity over years and years that starts to weigh the scales and impossible becomes possible. It’s okay until it isn’t.
The reason this is all true — yet it is still true that contact lenses aren’t usually bad for your eyes — is because contact lenses are made to be extremely low impact on your eyes. Modern contact lenses are able to diffuse a lot of oxygen and remain slick and smooth by “wetting” very evenly. This makes contacts comfortable. And, with very few exceptions, comfortable eyes mean healthy and happy eyes.
That fact — that your eyes will feel bad if bad things are happening to them — is great news for contact lens wearers. Sure, there’s a long explanation of why low risk activity over a long time starts to become higher risk. Knowing how your eyes feel, however, is the key piece of information in finding out whether or not that info applies to you specifically at this time of your life with contacts.
You may be someone with zero problems with contacts feeling uncomfortable when you’ve been wearing them for a while, or if you happen to fall asleep in them, or with your vision feeling unclear with contacts. In that situation, you can assume with some confidence (although you’d want an eye exam to confirm) contacts are not bad for your eyes right now. If you do have some problems how your eyes feel or see with contacts, there is something bad — maybe mildly or more than that — for your eyes happening with contacts.
For folks with no problems with contacts, LASIK will help them in the category of convenience, but it isn’t saving them from imminent risk to their eyes. When contacts are bad for your eyes, as indicated by how your eyes feel when you wear them, the answer is almost always to get rid of contacts. You can change brands, but usually it either doesn’t help at all or doesn’t help for long. The answer may be glasses, or it may be LASIK, but either way the answer to the question, “Should I keep using something that hurts my eyes?” is definitely, “No.” Wearing contacts is okay until it isn’t.