Cataract Surgery vs. Refractive Lens Exchange

When people hear about Refractive Lens Exchange, the first question is usually, “Isn’t it the same as cataract surgery?” No, it’s not the same. Here’s why.

Joel Hunter, MD
Joel Hunter, MD
Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 10/31/18 11:56 AM

Pretty much everyone has at least heard of cataract surgery at some point. The basic idea is that a cloudy lens inside the eye is removed and a new clear lens is placed where it once was. Actually, that’s not the basic idea of cataract surgery so much as it is the whole idea. When people first hear about Refractive Lens Exchange, wherein the lens inside the eye is replaced with a new lens, the first and foremost question is nearly always, “Is it the same thing as cataract surgery?” If you’re a person who likes brevity and simplicity, then you need read no further than the next sentence. No, it is not the same. For people like me who like details even at the occasional cost of moderate boredom, join me for the next couple paragraphs.

Sometimes it helps to take things out of the realm of the obscure and microscopic to examine and understand them a little better. So let’s talk about knees.

In one scenario, we meet a kind, elderly man who needs a wheelchair to get around because the arthritis in his knees is so terrible that he can’t walk anymore. We can replace those knees so that he can walk again, and it is a beautiful thing to be able to restore a man’s ability to walk.

In another scenario, we meet a man who was a championship long-distance runner in his youth, but now in his 50s his knees are giving him just enough trouble that he can only enjoy the occasional jog. What if we could replace his knees with ones that would restore his ability to dominate miles of terrain with the euphoria of easy speed that he hasn’t experienced since a lifetime ago?

That is the difference between cataract surgery and Refractive Lens Exchange. We can fix what is broken with cataract surgery. An eye that couldn’t see can be made to see, and it is a beautiful thing. With Refractive Lens Exchange, we can restore the ability of an aging eye, no longer able to do what it could, so that a person can finally lose their reading glasses for the last time. 

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