The pros and cons of contacts vs. glasses - and how to decide which is best for you

The pros and cons of contacts vs. glasses - and how to decide which is best for you
Glasses are usually a more affordable option than contacts.Melpomenem/Getty Images
  • Glasses are cheaper, easier to maintain, and better for children — but they can get in the way during activities and distort your peripheral vision.
  • Contacts are invisible, can be worn in almost all situations, and give you a full field of vision — but they can be hard to put in, difficult to maintain, and dry your eyes out.
  • To decide which is best for you, it often comes down to personal preference, and if you can afford it, having both contacts and glasses will let you choose which to wear when.

Contacts and glasses are used to correct the vision of people with eye conditions such as astigmatism, near-sightedness, and far-sightedness.

While glasses are most commonly used in these cases, contacts have long been touted as a convenient and efficient alternative. According to one report, about 71% of people in the US who need vision correction use glasses, and about 22% use contact lenses.

Here's a list of the pros and cons of both contacts and glasses to help you decide which is right for you.
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The pros and cons of glasses

Eyeglasses are the most common option used to correct vision problems like astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness. Over 150 million Americans use glasses.

They are typically made up of a frame and either glass or plastic lens. The lens could be either concave, which is typically used to correct nearsightedness, or convex which is usually used to correct farsightedness. It could also be cylindrical which is used for astigmatism.

Here are the pros and cons of wearing glasses.
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Pros of glasses

  • They are easy to maintain: To maintain glasses, you just need to keep them in a case when you aren't using them and occasionally wipe the lenses. They don't need any special care to continue to make them viable for your use.
  • They are easy to use: The design of glasses makes them easy to use, especially for children. They only need to be slipped on your face, and sit on your nose and ears.
  • They can be cost-effective: The cost of prescription glasses can run high, depending on what frames, lens, and other specifications you pick out. However, they can often be worn for years without needing to be changed. You can also select cheaper options for the frames and lens if you are on a budget.

Cons of glasses

  • They aren't always convenient to wear: Some people find wearing glasses everyday inconvenient - especially people who live active lifestyles or play a lot of sports. Wearing glasses in cold or wet weather can also be inconvenient because they can get foggy and wet.
  • They can distort peripheral vision: Some people report having blurry vision or finding it difficult to focus on objects when they start wearing glasses. This is because unlike contacts, glasses can distort your peripheral vision. In some cases, this adjusts with time but can be pesky at the beginning.
  • They can be bulky: People who have very strong prescriptions find that their glasses can be bulky and sometimes unappealing, because they need thicker lenses and sturdy frames to support the lens.

The pros and cons of contacts

Contact lenses are thin, curved plastic discs that are worn directly on your cornea. They can either be rigid or soft, although soft contact lenses are more popular. About 45 million people in the US wear contact lenses - and about 90% of them wear soft contact lenses.

Soft contact lenses are made up of soft and flexible plastics that can absorb water and mold to the shape of your eye. They are larger than hard contact lenses and can cover your eyes comfortably. Their size gives them an advantage over hard lenses, which are smaller in size and can dislodge from your eye. There are many options for soft contacts, including:
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  • Daily wear contacts, which can be used for a day and then discarded.
  • Monthly contacts, which you can wear for thirty days, but need to be removed before you go to bed every night.
  • Extended wear contacts, which you can sleep in and leave in your eyes for up to a week. However, these may put you at a higher risk of infection.

Hard contact lenses are either rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses or conventional hard lenses (PMMA). These types of lenses provide a sharper vision for people whose corneas are unevenly curved. However, they are the most uncomfortable type of contact lens because they . reduce the amount of oxygen that gets to your eye, causing dryness. But RGP are less likely to cause dryness than PMMA lenses.

When compared to glasses, these are the pros and cons of contact lenses:

Pros of contact lenses

  • They are invisible: It's almost impossible for a person to know you are wearing contact lenses. Especially when they are clear or match your original eye color. "Contacts give the wearer a more natural feel, as their vision isn't hindered in any way and the lenses move with your eye," says Margaret Liu, MD, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at California Pacific Medical Center and medical director of the Pacific Vision Surgery Center.
  • They are ideal for people with an active lifestyle: Contacts are more convenient for people who lead a very active life. Unlike glasses, you can play sports and exercise when wearing them with ease.
  • They give you a full field of vision: Contacts are designed to form to the curvature of your eye. This helps to provide the wearer with a wider field of vision and cause fewer distortions than glasses sometimes do.
  • They can be worn at almost all times: Unlike glasses, contacts do not fog up when it's cold or get covered with mud, dirt, or rain in certain weathers.

Cons of contact lenses

  • They can be hard to maintain: It's very important to be careful with the daily care of contacts to prevent infections. Most types of contacts need to be cleaned daily and stored properly and carefully to avoid getting an eye infection. When contacts are mishandled you can introduce bacteria into your eye, which could cause complications such as corneal abrasions, and neovascularization, a condition which causes new blood vessels to grow in your cornea and causes eye redness.
  • They can be difficult to put in: Some people, especially people who are using contacts for the first time, may have trouble inserting contacts into their eyes. People who are squeamish may also be averse to putting in contact lenses.
  • They can be expensive: Contacts need to be replaced often, which can make them more expensive than glasses in the long term.
  • They can dry out your eyes: Contact lenses dry out some people's eyes. While eye drops might help with this, needing to use eye drops every time you put on a contact lens can be rather inconvenient. "Overuse of contact lenses may lead to intolerance due to symptoms of grittiness or dryness," says Liu.

Should you choose contacts or glasses?

"As both contacts and glasses have their pros and cons, the better overall option is completely dependent on the person and their lifestyle," Liu says.
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While glasses might be the cheaper and more convenient option for vision correction, contact lenses do have advantages that can't be ignored. They are unobtrusive, give a full field of vision, and are a great option for people who lead active lifestyles.

If contact lenses are your preferred option, it's never a bad idea to also have a pair of glasses you can use when wearing your contacts isn't convenient.

When choosing between contact lenses and glasses for your child, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of each option carefully.
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"Because contact lenses require more care to avoid serious eye infections, it's important to ask yourself if your child is ready for that responsibility," says Liu. "If your child tends to be more active, contact lenses will likely be a better fit."

Insider's takeaway

You don't always have to choose between glasses and contacts. Owning both allows you to switch between them depending on the occasion or when is most convenient.

While using both contacts and glasses is an option for some people, you should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option to decide which is best for you.
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