There are two prominent methods to correct refractive errors of the eye including myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism, and presbyopia. On one hand, you have laser surgeries that use lasers to reshape the cornea to correct the error. On the other hand, you have surgeries that either replace or complement the natural lens with an artificial lens (not a contact lens).
In this guide, we’re going to look at both and compare their pros and cons. To find out which procedure is more suitable for you, you might need to learn more than just the difference between laser surgeries and implantable lenses because both are broad categories and include multiple procedures within them. Consult with an ophthalmologist from a reputable clinic such as Discover Vision for more relevant information.
What are Implantable Lenses?
People with high degrees of refractive error or thin corneas are not suitable for other types of surgeries like LASIK and PRK. In such cases, highly trained eye surgeons use artificial lenses to correct vision.
No flap, no reshaping, no lasers.
There are two types of implantable lenses: intraocular (IOL) and implantable contact lens (ICL):
• In an IOL procedure, a surgeon implants an artificial lens into the eye, replacing the natural lens. Though more common to remove cloudy lenses in patients suffering from cataracts, IOL can be used to correct refractive errors as well.
• ICL implants a thin, prescription lens inside the eye to correct the refractive error without replacing the natural lens. A small incision is made in the cornea to create space for the lens. Then, a Collamer-based biocompatible lens is placed in front of the cornea. It’s a safe and reversible process, as the lens can be removed or replaced if needed.
Procedures like IOL are usually reserved for treating cataracts but they can be used to correct severe refractive errors in the eyes too. ICL corrective eye surgery is often ideal for refractive errors, however, when you don’t have cloudiness in the eyes.
Implantable Lenses vs. Laser Surgeries
Laser surgeries like LASIK, LASEK, PRK, and SMILE are also invasive surgeries that don’t rely on the use of a lens to correct the focusing power of the eye. Instead, they reshape the cornea to compensate for the exact error in the refraction while keeping the underlying natural lens intact.
Laser surgeries are generally considered minimally invasive as they do not involve the insertion of any artificial devices into the eye.
There’s the difference in procedure, of course. And then there are also differences in safety, results, reliability, and so on. However, the most important difference is the use case.
• Use Case: Implantable lenses are recommended for those with a severe refractive error or extremely thin corneas—As these individuals cannot undergo typical laser surgeries. If you are eligible for laser surgeries, then you should always go with those as they are cheaper, more convenient, have a shorter recovery time, and are more readily available.
• Safety: Generally, laser surgeries are less safe than implantable lenses. LASIK creates a flap in the cornea which can get dislocated, for example. PRK removes the epithelium (outermost layer of the cornea) which not only causes discomfort but also means that you must care for your eyes for days if not weeks until it regenerates. Even rubbing the eyes or accidentally causing any trauma before vision has fully stabilized and the cornea healed can cause complications that might need additional intervention. LASIK, however, is pretty dependable with a high success rate.
• Permanence: LASIK, PRK, SMILE, etc. are not 100% permanent. Though they fix the refractive error, they don’t keep the eyes from suffering age-related degeneration over time. Implantable lenses are artificial lenses that will stay clear for a significantly longer period of time. Most patients who undergo ICL or IOL don’t need another procedure ever, but that’s not the case with LASIK or PRK, for example.
• Reliability: Both, laser surgeries and implantable lenses are highly reliable. It all depends on the experience of the eye surgeon, ophthalmologist, or eye clinic that you get in touch with.
• Cost: Generally, implantable lenses are a more precise procedure and therefore, more expensive than laser surgeries. LASIK and PRK cost pretty much the same with PRK being slightly cheaper, and SMILE is remarkably cheaper than both. But ICL and IOL surgeries are on a completely different level and can cost anywhere from 2 to 5 times more than laser surgeries, and up to $10,000 or even higher in some cases.
• Recovery Time: The recovery time for laser surgeries is usually quicker compared to implantable lens surgeries, with most patients experiencing improved vision within a few days or weeks. LASIK is popular for recovery well within a day in most cases.
Note that insurance typically covers these treatments, so the actual cost will be lower. Find out more here: Will insurance cover LASIK for astigmatism?
You might be more suitable for one of the types of surgeries than the other. As mentioned before, laser surgeries are often impossible for people with extremely thin corneas or very severe refractive errors. ICL or IOL surgery is the only option.
Implantable lenses can be customized to address the specific refractive error of the individual, providing more precise vision correction. Laser surgeries can also fix the refractive error but are also prone to overcorrection or undercorrection.
Ultimately, it depends on your particular condition. An eye specialist will tell you the most suitable procedure for your vision problems.