What Are Intraocular Lens Implants?
An intraocular lens (IOL) implant is an acrylic replacement for your eye’s natural lens and takes over the image-focusing function in your eye. The IOL, just like the natural lens, focuses light inside the eye.
IOLs are able to correct a wider range of vision problems than any other vision correction surgery. They can be used to correct myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism, and presbyopia (the difficulty focusing up close that starts around age 40). However, an IOL is most commonly used for vision correction as part of cataract surgery or Refractive Lens Exchange.
An IOL is approximately 1/3 the size of a dime. It is circular in the center and has arms called “haptics” on either side which hold it in place.
What Is Refractive Lens Exchange?
A Refractive Lens Exchange is the procedure used when someone uses IOL technology to improve their vision in the absence of cataracts. The procedure is performed the same way and the results are the same. The only difference is that a person having a Refractive Lens Exchange did not start with a cataract. Once an RLE is performed, a cataract will not develop later in life.
How Do IOL Implants Work?
The IOL replaces the eyes natural lens. The lens is first removed by a process called phacoemulsification. A small incision is made in the edge of the cornea. Then, the lens is broken into small pieces and rinsed from the eye. The IOL is folded and inserted through the small incision so that it rests in the same clear capsule where the natural lens once did.
The length of the eye, the curvature of the cornea, and the position of the lens within the eye are all considered while determining the optimal power for the IOL. Extensive measurements are taken before and during surgery to fine-tune this measurement.
As we age, the clear proteins within the natural lens of your eye may change and turn parts of your lens cloudy. This condition is known as a cataract, which can blur and impair your vision and worsen over time. Cataracts are incredibly common and are a leading cause of blindness – especially in older demographics. It is estimated that more than half of all people will either have a cataract or will have had cataract surgery by the time they reach 80 years of age.
The intraocular lens implant is routinely utilized during cataract surgery. Intraocular lenses work much in the same way as a natural lens would. As light rays enter the eye the IOL bends (or refracts) the light rays to help you see with accuracy. A lens implant may have various focusing powers, just like prescription contact lenses or eyeglasses.
Which Intraocular Lens Is Best?
IOLs can be used to fix nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia. Depending on ones specific eye issues and desired outcome, there are several different types of IOLs to choose from:
- Monofocal IOLs – A monofocal IOL has only has one focal point. It can be set to focus on close, medium, or distance vision based on your preference. Distance vision tends to be the most common selection. When this is the case, reading glasses are used for reading or seeing close up.
- Trifocal IOLs – Trifocal IOLs help you see better in the distance, intermediate (computer distance), and near (reading distance). Unlike bifocals where one has to look down to see up close, trifocal IOLs allow you to see both distance and near while looking in any direction.
- Toric IOLs – This is the go-to option if your eye has significant astigmatism. Astigmatism results when the cornea is flatter in one direction than the other, like a football. This typically impacts the vision at all distances. A toric IOL is designed to correct the astigmatism and allow you to have great vision without glasses. Toric, astigmatism correcting IOLs can be monofocal or trifocal. Prior to surgery, your eye surgeon takes measurements of your eye to determine the most beneficial toric IOL power and the specific orientation required for the eye to correct the astigmatism successfully.
- Phakic Lenses – Phakic lenses are not IOLs, but rather ICLs. Phakic ICLs leave the natural lens untouched and intact. Commonly used to correct moderate to severe nearsightedness, a phakic ICL is a clear lens surgically placed between either the cornea and the iris or just behind the iris. This implant allows light to focus properly on the retina without the need for additional corrective eyewear. A phakic ICL is primarily designed for people who are too nearsighted for LASIK and photorefractive keratectomy.
How Long Do IOL Implants Last?
IOL implants are made from materials that do not break down over a person’s lifetime, so fortunately they do not need to be replaced. However, the treatment is reversible so implants can be exchanged if you are not experiencing acceptable improvement to your vision. If an even better technology becomes available down the road, it would also be possible to upgrade at that time.
Are Lens Implants Safe?
While there is risk associated with surgery of any kind, it is rare to experience complications after an intraocular lens implant procedure. Prior to any surgery, your ophthalmologist will examine your eyes and assess your medical history carefully to determine if you are a good candidate for an IOL procedure. This will help to determine if there are any factors that may increase your susceptibility to IOL risks.
Side effects to this procedure may include some bleeding, redness, inflammation – all of which resolve quickly. More serious risks of surgery include a detached retina, infection or severe inflammation which could result in vision loss. Your doctor will recommend medicated drops following surgery. It is important to use these drops as instructed to prevent infection or inflammation.
What Is the Recovery Time for an IOL Implant Procedure?
It is also possible for the implant to move out of position which would necessitate a follow-up procedure to correct the intraocular lens’ alignment in your eye.
The vision is often blurry immediately following the surgery and then clears up over the next few days. It is recommended to avoid heavy lifting or straining for the first 2 weeks following the surgery.
If you are experiencing cataracts in your eyes or have notable nearsightedness that makes you a poor candidate for LASIK, an intraocular lens implant may be one procedure worth considering. As always, the Board Certified Ophthalmologists at Heart of Texas Eye Institute are here to help you navigate your options for better eye health and can provide you with a clear recommendation for lens implant options that fit with your specific needs and lifestyle goals.