There’s a common misconception that lens surgery and laser eye surgery are the same procedure and are used to combat the same eye conditions. However, where lens surgery replaces your eye’s natural lens with an artificial one, laser eye surgery uses lasers to reshape the eyes corneas to correct common refractive errors.

Not only that, but there are two types of lens surgery: Implantable Contact Lenses (ICL) which involves placing an artificial contact lens into your eye to correct your prescription, and Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE) surgery whereby your eye’s natural lens is replaced with either a Monofocal lens or Multifocal one.

What is the difference between ICL and RLE surgery?

Implantable contact lens surgery is for patients who don’t need reading glasses. This treatment involves positioning the new lens in front of the natural lens and behind the iris. With this surgery, the natural lens remains in place, so the procedure is reversible.

Refractive lens exchange surgery is the same as cataract treatment. This surgery involves removing the natural lens and replacing it with an artificial one. With this treatment, a cataract cannot form at a later stage.

Which lens surgery should you choose?

There are a number of factors that will not only influence your decision but will also dictate which treatment is the best one for you.

ICL surgery is normally reserved for people under the age of 40. This tends to be because they cannot have laser eye surgery because they have, for example, a high prescription or a high degree of astigmatism. Later in life, RLE may be a better alternative.

RLE on the other hand, is a better option if you’re older and you aren’t suitable for laser eye surgery. This could be because you have a high eye prescription or have the beginnings of cataracts. Statistics from the RNIB show that an estimated 30% of people over 65 have a visually impairing cataract in one or both eyes, making this treatment the more preferred option amongst those with cataracts. This treatment uses two different types of lenses: monofocal and multifocal.

Monofocal improves your distance sight, but you will still need to wear glasses for near work, and multifocal offers clear distance, middle distance and near vision, but about 1% of people find they cannot get used to them and opt for another lens exchange operation.

Does lens surgery hurt?

Most patients report that the procedures for both ICL and RLE are pain free. This is achieved by administering numbing eye drops before treatment so you don’t feel pain during, although you may feel some pressure. After treatment, there bay be some mild discomfort as your eyes begin to heal.

If you think your eyesight would benefit from lens surgery, it’s worth speaking to an expert. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists have created a handy checklist in which to go through with your surgeon to ensure lens surgery is the right choice for you.