Curious about the costs and benefits of LASIK? We dive into the pros and cons to figure out whether it’s worth it.
Financial Impulse’s “Is It Worth It?” series takes a close look at high-cost items and experiences with the mission to break down their costs and benefits.
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I got my first pair of glasses in the fourth grade, after getting out of my seat to move closer to the blackboard during class. I wasn’t the only one, but I remember my teacher asking, “You can’t see it from your desk?”
It didn’t surprise me that I was nearsighted; both of my parents wore glasses, so it only made sense.
Later on, in high school, I moved onto contact lenses. And from then on, I almost always wore contacts, reserving my glasses for lazy days indoors.
The idea of getting laser eye surgery had intrigued me ever since I heard about a few relatives getting it, all of whom had good things to say. The cost was a major deterrent, of course, not to mention the idea of lasers touching my eyes. But as more people I knew got it—and endorsed it enthusiastically—LASIK came to grow more and more appealing.
Finally, a few months before my 26th birthday, I bit the bullet and got LASIK while living in Taiwan.
What exactly is LASIK and how does it work?
LASIK is an FDA-approved type of laser eye surgery that involves reshaping the cornea in order to correct errors in vision, including nearsightedness, farsightedness, and even astigmatism. A flap is cut in the eye and gently folded back so that a laser can reshape the corneal tissue beneath. Once complete, the flap is returned to its place, which recovers over the next several weeks and months.
The procedure is fairly quick, requiring less than 10 minutes per eye. Patients are not put under, but receive numbing eye drops to avoid feeling any pain.
How much does LASIK cost?
According to All About Vision, the average cost of LASIK surgery in the U.S. in 2017 was $2,088 per eye, or $4,176 for both. Of course, it’s worth noting that different technology as well as surgeon reputation may affect your final price quote—not to mention location, especially for those not based in the U.S.
LASIK may be cheaper overseas
I lived overseas in Taipei, Taiwan, at the time of my LASIK operation. The specific procedure recommended to me came out to be $88,000 NTD, or approximately $2,856 USD, although this wasn’t the cheapest or most expensive option offered at the clinic. (Options varied based on different technologies used.)
For an idea of how LASIK might be priced elsewhere, I spoke with others who had it done in another country besides the U.S.
Jorge Mata, personal finance blogger at Money Luchador, shared that he had the procedure done in Matamoros, Mexico, for $1,500 USD. “I got LASIK in 2008 and it’s been the best decision I ever made,” Mata said. “Even now that it’s been over 10 years, I still have 20/20 vision.”
For author and investor Sandy Yong, who had LASIK in Toronto in 2016, it cost just under $4,000 CAD—or roughly $3,000 USD at the time.
Discounts can make LASIK significantly more affordable
Rest assured if you don’t have the resources (or desire) to have LASIK done in another country. Environmental writer Ellen Johnson shares that her procedure in La Mesa, California, cost $1,350 in 2014.
How’d she find such an inexpensive deal?
Johnson snagged the deal through Groupon.
“It might sound weird to try to look for a bargain on a surgical procedure, but fortunately, it worked out really well for me,” Johnson says, adding that in spite of the lower cost, the quality of her operation did not suffer. “When I go for my annual eye exam, I often get comments from the ophthalmologist about how well my procedure was done because the incisions are nearly invisible.”
How does the cost compare to wearing glasses or contacts?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much a lifetime of wearing glasses and/or contacts costs, since so many factors count towards that expense: the age you begin wearing them, how frequently you change your prescription and lenses, the price of your frames/contacts, and so on.
For a helpful reference, Zenni Optical breaks down some of these:
- Average age a person begins needing glasses: 7
- Average retail cost of a pair of glasses: $268
- Average pair of glasses worn in a year: 1 (adults), 2 (children)
Thus, assuming you begin wearing glasses at age 7, you’ll spend $13,400 over the next fifty years on glasses alone. That’s not including additional pairs needed in childhood, as kids tend to outgrow (or destroy) a pair of glasses every year.
As for contact lenses, expect to pay somewhere between $370 to $460 a year for them. This range includes the cost of lenses themselves ($220 to $260) as well as the contact solution needed to clean them ($150 to $200). As a result, wearing contact lenses will cost you between $18,500 and $23,000 over fifty years.
Do you wear both? If so, the amount you spend will likely be much higher.
The Pros and Cons
Outside of the financials, finding out whether LASIK is “worth it” also depends largely on its benefits and drawbacks. Here are the biggest pros and cons reported.
Pro: No longer needing any vision correction
The success rate of LASIK operations is overwhelmingly positive, with 99% of patients reporting better than 20/40 vision. For these patients, many of whom have spent much of their lives needing vision correction, laser eye surgery is a complete gamechanger.
That includes myself.
Having worn glasses since elementary school, I’m dumbfounded by (and envious of) those who are lucky enough to have never needed them. Growing up, I felt self-conscious about wearing glasses, even into adulthood. And though contacts helped with this, who ever enjoys putting something in their eyes and taking it out everyday?
In short, no longer needing any vision correction feels amazing.
Pro: More convenience
“It feels so freeing to wake up in the morning and be able to see immediately without having to put on glasses or contacts,” Johnson says. “I definitely don’t miss the discomfort of wearing my glasses or contacts every day or the hassle of cleaning them.”
Like Johnson, I relish the convenience that comes with seeing clearly—no more fumbling with my contacts, or wiping glasses that have fogged up.
And, since I occasionally sign up for 5k’s and other races that start at the crack of dawn, it’s especially nice budgeting less time for getting ready in the morning. (No more dropping contact lenses in the sink!) Though wearing glasses was always an option, sweating during a run, or any workout for that matter, often meant they’d be sliding down my face.
Yong shares a similar sentiment, noting: “This is great when playing sports like volleyball or going swimming. I can also drive my car without needing prescription lenses.”
Con: It doesn’t last forever
Before moving forward with LASIK, my doctor made it clear that the procedure wouldn’t mean perfect vision for the rest of my life. In fact, 6% of patients opt for a LASIK enhancement within 10 years of their procedure due to myopic regression.
In other words, laser eye surgery isn’t a magical cure to poor vision. Natural age-related problems in vision, like cataracts and glaucoma, can still affect your eyes later on in life.
“I will need reading glasses when I hit my 40s in 12 years,” Mata acknowledges, “but in my opinion, 20 years of not having any glasses whatsoever is worth it.”
Con: Side effects like dry eyes
As with any major surgery, LASIK doesn’t come without its side effects. By and large, the most common is dry eye.
“I usually need to use lubricating eye drops once a day, after I wake up in the morning,” Johnson says. “It’s a small drawback that I am definitely willing to live with in exchange for having near-perfect vision.”
Similarly, Yong reports, “Before I had LASIK, I had dry eye symptoms. After the surgery, it made it much worse. Now I have special prescription eye drops that I use, especially in my office, where the air is dry.”
For me personally, I never had dry eyes prior to LASIK. In fact, when testing my tear production during my LASIK consultation, I passed with flying colors; my doctor noted that I shed a lot of tears in the first minute of the 5-minute test.
That said, after going through the procedure, it’s now normal for me to use eye drops almost immediately after waking up, though I generally don’t need them for the rest of the day. The ophthalmologist and clinic that did my operation specifically recommended the brand Refresh; I keep a few bottles in multiple places, e.g., my bedside, purse, and bathroom.
Con: More serious side effects
Beyond dry eyes, it’s also worth mentioning that there have been cases of suicide linked to LASIK. These incidents have affected the minority of patients but nevertheless, should be seriously considered.
I had not heard of this prior to own operation and am not sure whether I would have proceeded had I been aware. In any case, if you’re considering LASIK, you should first speak with your eye doctor and other trained medical professionals.
Alternatively, if you’ve already had the procedure and are having trouble, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with someone right away.
Conclusion: Is LASIK worth it?
I’m no medical professional and can’t speak to LASIK’s health risks. Having heard about those who faced more severe complications, it sounds like a case-by-case basis. (And of course, if you’re satisfied with glasses or contacts, there’s obviously no need to consider the procedure.) Ultimately, not everyone is an ideal candidate—and LASIK consultations screen for this by assessing patients’ medical history and overall eye health.
However, those who shared about their LASIK experience all reported immense satisfaction and having no regrets about getting it. I agree with them completely.
From a financial standpoint, getting LASIK may make sense in the long run, considering how much glasses and contacts add up to over a lifetime. That’s not the only or most important benefit, of course. In the end, it’s hard to quantify the value of being able to see clearly.
What are your concerns about getting laser eye surgery, if you’re considering it? Or, if you’ve already had it done, how was your experience?