What is the Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE)?
Refractive lens exchange, or RLE, can sometimes be the best option for a patient who is not a candidate for one of our other refractive procedures. RLE replaces the eye’s clear natural lens with an artificial intraocular lens to correct vision and achieve sharper focus while reducing the need for reading glasses or bifocals.
RLE is typically for patients with presbyopia or extreme farsightedness that might not be ideal candidates for LASIK or PRK. RLE may be the most viable option for patients with both presbyopia and moderate to severe hyperopia. The procedure for RLE is virtually identical to cataract surgery.
What Happens During the Procedure?
RLE is performed on an outpatient basis. Usually, both eyes are treated separately. The procedure itself is nearly identical to cataract surgery, except that RLE replaces a clear lens and cataract surgery replaces a cloudy lens.
The eyes are completely numbed to prevent any discomfort during the surgery. A small incision is created in the corner of the eye to access the capsule that holds the lens. An opening is made in the capsule and the lens is carefully removed. Then, an intraocular lens implant (IOL) of the patient’s choosing is carefully positioned in the same capsule that held the natural lens.
What Is the Recovery Like?
Many people experience instant vision improvement after surgery and can resume work as soon as the day after surgery. Patients can expect to resume the rest of their everyday activities, including exercise, within about a week of surgery. They should be careful not to touch their eyes or get sweat, dust or smoke in their eyes for a month after surgery as the eyes heal.
Refractive Lens Exchange Versus LASIK and PRK
Although LASIK and PRK are the more popular procedures, refractive lens exchange is a good alternative for many people struggling with refractive errors and dependence on visual aids. In fact, refractive lens exchange may be the better option in many cases because it can correct nearly any degree of farsightedness (instead of only mildly to moderately severe cases) and presbyopia, which LASIK and PRK do not address. Another advantage of RLE is that it eliminates the need for cataract surgery later in life as the artificial lens cannot develop cataracts.