Is it Worth it to Have RLE?
When you’re considering any elective medical procedure, you need to know the risks, and weigh them against the benefits. The choice of whether or not to have an elective procedure is very personal, and every person will make their choice differently. Here, we’ll discuss the major risks and benefits of having refractive lens exchange (RLE), also known as clear lens exchange (CLE).
RLE is a procedure in which the eye’s natural lens is removed, and replaced with an artificial lens. The new lens can have a prescription built into it, helping light to focus on the retina and removing the need for glasses or contacts. The procedure is exactly the same as cataract surgery, with the only difference being that the natural lens being removed is clear rather than clouded by cataracts. For more on what it’s like to have RLE, please see Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE): the Procedure and Recovery.
Please note that this page is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for qualified, individualized medical advice. You should discuss your potential elective procedure with your own doctor(s), including your primary care physician and the provider who will perform your procedure if you decide to proceed.
Any treatment has risks, and it’s important to be aware of them so that you can weigh them against the benefits.
There is a risk of retinal detachment with RLE. This risk is increased in people who have severe myopia (nearsightedness). Retinal detachment is usually treatable with further surgery, but still may lead to eye damage and potentially to blindness.
There is also a risk of other problems with the eye. If there’s damage to the nerves in and around the eye, you may experience a droopy eyelid, which may be permanent. There is a chance of bleeding or fluid collecting within the eye, which raises the eye pressure and may also potentially lead to blindness. Because the eye is being cut, there is a risk of infection, which may require antibiotics and could also cause permanent damage to the eye.
There are also potential risks associated with the intraocular lens itself. The lens may become dislocated, which would make it difficult or impossible to see, and would require an additional surgery to replace the lens. Sometimes, there are other difficulties with the artificial lenses. There may be glare or halos around lights, particularly at night (similar to the most common side effects of LASIK and other laser procedures on the cornea), and vision is sometimes hazy through the IOLs. The prescription in the newly placed lens may also be somewhat inaccurate, which could require you to use glasses or contacts to achieve good vision.
RLE is a permanent procedure, because the natural lens is removed and replaced with the artificial lens. This should be carefully considered before proceeding. It’s also possible to place intraocular lenses without removing the natural lens; these are called phakic IOLs, and you should consider them as an option when thinking about vision correction surgery.
While RLE does have risks, its benefits are also significant, and the majority of people who have RLE are satisfied with the outcome. RLE offers people who must wear glasses or contacts freedom from the hassle of these devices. With glasses, people may be restricted from participating in certain types of activities, particularly sports; RLE may allow them to do the things they love. Additionally, many find wearing glasses uncomfortable on the bridge of the nose or tops of the ears, and many also don’t like the look of glasses. Contacts are uncomfortable and easy to lose, and some people are unable to tolerate contacts due to certain features of their eyes, and for those with very strong prescriptions, may not even be possible.
Those with strong prescriptions are often not candidates for LASIK or other laser eye procedures involving the cornea. RLE and phakic IOLs are options for those people. Additionally, presbyopia, or age-related loss of focusing power, can be treated with RLE, but cannot be treated with LASIK or other laser procedures. Those in older age groups may also have early cataracts; if signs of cataracts are present, then RLE is the best option for vision correction, because the procedure would become necessary eventually anyway with the progression of cataracts.
The cost for RLE is around $2,500 to $4,500 per eye. This cost varies depending on several factors, including the region and the particular surgeon. You should check with the provider(s) you’re considering to determine the exact cost. Keep in mind that financing is often available. For more detail, visit our Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE) Cost page.