Does RLE really prevent me from getting cataracts?

At some point, everyone gets cataracts. However, when someone gets RLE, the artificial lens that replaces the natural lens is permanent and doesn’t degrade over the course of your life.

Joel Hunter, MD
Joel Hunter, MD
Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 10/31/18 11:19 AM

Everyone expects different parts of their body to become slightly less functional with wear and tear over time. There’s a reason most of the athletic world records are set by people who are too young to remember New Coke or what a great show Perfect Strangers was. Top functioning human bodies slowly wear down over time, but it usually doesn’t matter much. People can be in excellent physical condition into their 80s and 90s. It doesn’t require world-record athletic ability to be able to function perfectly in our daily lives.

There’s one area where all of that talk of maintaining good functionality gets thrown out the window. The lens inside the human eye is designed to fail over time. It’s the only part of the body I can think of that inexorably gets worse to the point of non-functionality in a shorter timespan than it takes to grow very old. It gets new layers each year, and the old layers just get more and more compact in the center of the lens. By the time we call it a cataract, it is so dense that light filters weakly through it like a sad candle viewed through brown stained glass.

Everyone gets cataracts.

The 85-year-old who never got cataracts and still enjoys the same hobbies he did as a young adult? That man has bad cataracts. He just can’t tell because it happens so slowly. It’s like telling a 6-year-old, “I want you to notice yourself get taller each day for the next 10 years.” It is such an imperceptible rate of change that there’s no possibility of perceiving it. The only difference with cataracts is a more reasonable timeframe to watch the change happen would be about 40 to 50 years.

This is the reason that RLE prevents cataracts.

The artificial lens that replaces the natural lens is permanent and doesn’t degrade over the course of your life. One of the only downsides to RLE is missing out on the miraculous feeling of undoing 50 years of lens hardening and darkening in a 10-minute surgery. The only way to get that feeling, however, is to let the lens get that dysfunctional in the first place. Preventing that loss of function over the years is part of what makes RLE so miraculous, albeit in a more lifelong rather than spontaneous kind of way. It is the miracle of having a lens that doesn’t age, instead of a lens that seems to age quicker than the rest of you.

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