Refractive Lens Exchange
Refractive Lens Exchange (usually abbreviated to RLE) is essentially cataract surgery, but exclusively for refractive purposes. Cataract surgery is necessary to replace a cloudy lens which has caused poor vision, whereas in a refractive lens exchange procedure the same lens (which may not be defective) is removed and replaced by a specially designed implant to correct your prescription. RLE is often an appropriate alternative to laser surgery when the refractive error is too high or too complex to treat with the laser alone.
Exchange of the Natural Lens
In RLE the natural lens of the eye is removed and replaced with a silicone or plastic intra-ocular lens (IOL). The replacement IOL is of a power to correct most, if not all, of the patient’s long or short sight. In order to achieve the desired focus for an eye it is sometimes necessary to use more than one type of procedure. This may be necessary if the focus error of the eye is too large or complex to be fully corrected by the RLE procedure alone. In most cases, top up laser correction is used to correct any residual refractive error. Combining procedures in this way is called Bioptics. Age is an important consideration and this procedure is generally only performed on patients who are 40+.
See Distance and Near
Most IOLs cannot accommodate by changing focus from distance to near like a young and healthy natural lens. Your eye will be set for either near vision or far vision. However, in some patients, there is the option to insert multifocal IOLs that can restore both distance and near vision. It is also possible to be corrected for monovision with RLE. Monovision is another method to receive some advantage of near and distant vision and resolve presbyopia.
Advantages of RLE
There are several advantages to RLE over other forms of refractive surgery. Although it is a more invasive procedure than Laser Correction, it is still extremely safe to perform. Some of the most obvious are that the surgery has years of successful history and the cornea is relatively untouched. If you have a thin cornea, dry eyes, or other minor corneal problems, RLE may be a better alternative.
RLE may be the only option for people with a high refractive error. Also, if the exact desired post-operative refractive target is not achieved, the IOL may be exchanged for one of a different power, or the laser may be used in combination with RLE to “fine tune” the correction (Bioptics). Because RLE removes the natural lens, there is no possibility of developing a cataract in the future. If you already have cataracts starting to form, RLE is the procedure of choice. There is little need to have surgery affecting the cornea if within a short period of time you will be having cataract surgery anyway.
About Refractive Lens Exchange Surgery
Refractive lens exchange is a day case procedure, and can be performed under simple eye drop anaesthesia. The operation is not painful and good vision normally returns within 2 days of the surgery. Only one eye is operated on at a time, and typically the eyes are treated one week apart. Each eye takes approximately 10 – 15 minutes to treat.