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Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE)

Have you been told you’re not a candidate for refractive surgery? If so, you are not alone. Many patients are not ideal candidates for cornea-based refractive laser surgery like LASIK or PRK. These reasons may include:

  • High prescription outside the treatable range
  • Thin corneas
  • Minor corneal conditions
  • Dry eyes

Likewise, an implantable contact lens (ICL) may not be the best option for middle-aged or older patients:

  • Who are at risk for cataract formation
  • Or who are presbyopic and desire an alternative to reading glasses or monovision

In all of these cases, there is another time-proven and advanced refractive surgery option: Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE).

What is RLE?

RLE is a surgical procedure that uses the same technique as modern cataract surgery. Just like cataract surgery, RLE involves removing the natural lens in the eye and replacing it with a tiny permanent prescription Intraocular Lens (IOL) resulting in improved vision and reduced dependency on glasses or contact lenses. This is different than most other refractive surgeries, like LASIK, that involve reshaping the cornea.

In a sense, RLE is the most time-proven of all refractive surgeries since modern cataract surgery with IOLs has been performed for over 40 years. Likewise, cataract surgery is the most common surgery of any kind in modern medicine.


As in cataract surgery, a single vision IOL can be inserted to eliminate nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. In this scenario, a patient’s distance vision will be significantly improved, but they’ll still need reading glasses. More recently, multifocal IOLs have been developed to correct distance AND reading vision.

Different types of IOLs

Different types of IOLs

Benefits of RLE

RLE is an increasingly popular vision correction procedure because it is familiar to all skilled cataract surgeons, and yields consistent, predictable results. Furthermore, recovery from the procedure is fast, the risk of complication is low, and there is no concern about developing cataracts later in life.

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•  IOL Overview

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