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Guide to Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE) Surgery: Pros and Cons

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 @ 12:02 AM
Author: Amit Mathur

If you are considering corrective eye surgery to either help improve your sight or to help treat a condition you have, you might not know much about Refractive Lens Exchange and whether or not it’s right for you. The truth is that it’s not for everyone. However, it’s the only effective way to treat certain conditions and types of sight problems. Here are some pros and cons that will help you determine if it’s right for you.

refractive lens exchange

What is Refractive Lens Exchange Surgery?

Also known as Lens Replacement Surgery, it is a surgical procedure that replaces your eye’s natural lens if it does not properly refract light. There are a number of eye conditions that this can cure, as well as types of sight deficiencies. When exchanging your refractive lens for an artificial one, there are three types of Artificial Intraocular Lens that you can have as replacements:

  • Monofocal — fixed focus lens to provide clear vision for long, medium or short distances
  • Accommodating — a type of monofocal lens that can work for multiple distances with the ability to shift positions in the eye
  • Multifocal — provides clear vision for all distances

You should request an appointment with your eye doctor to determine what the best type of lens is for you. When compared to other surgical procedures, it is very similar to cataract surgery, only it replaces your natural lens with a clear artificial lens instead of a cloudy one. The cloudy lens are used to treat cataracts, whereas a clear one helps improve your sight or correct other conditions. The surgery usually takes around 15 minutes for one eye, with at least one week between the procedure on the second eye. Basic recovery takes around a week, though complete recovery can take months.


The benefit of Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE) surgery is that it is either the only or the most appropriate procedure for treating certain eye conditions and vision problems. Specifically, it is the best way to fix presbyopia and extreme far sightedness, and in fact might also be the only way to get clearer vision without still relying on glasses post-surgery. It also has other benefits, such as:

  • Treats or prevents cataracts, astigmatism, presbyopia, long-sightedness, short-sightedness, corneal problems and dry eyes
  • Removes reliance on glasses and other corrective lenses and reduces the headaches and eye strain associated with their use
  • Acts as an alternative for people who are not able to have other corrective eye surgeries for whatever reason

It also generally improves the eye health and reduces the likelihood that you’ll develop an eye infection. Depending on the specific conditions of your eyes and how they affect you, you might receive only some of these benefits. But these are the most common benefits for Refractive Eye Exchange.


While RFE surgery has great benefits to patients with these conditions, it is not as beneficial to those who have different conditions. There are other potential drawbacks as well, compared to other types of corrective eye surgery:

  • People with myopia (near sightedness) are at a greater risk of retinal detachment during RFE and should only resort to it if other surgeries are not viable at all
  • It is rare but possible that you might have to undergo further treatment post-RFE surgery to gain the full benefits to your vision
  • RFE surgery is about much more expensive than LASIK or other more common types of eye surgery

It’s extremely important to see your eye doctor to make sure your eye conditions are properly diagnosed. They will also ensure that you have the right eye prescription or make the best recommendation for what type of eye surgery is best for you by helping you navigate through the risks, pros and cons. This is what will help you to make an informed decision for your eye care.

If you’re shopping for prescription eyewear and you don’t really know much about the different types that are available to you aside from regular glasses, this guide is for you. There are a few types that you can choose from, including clip-ons, transition lenses, and contacts. Here’s a guide that will explain the differences briefly.

eyewear prescriptions

Clip-On Sunglasses

Clip-on sunglasses is pretty self-explanatory. They are polarized lenses that clip onto your regular prescription glasses so that your eyes are protected from UV rays and glare when you are outside. The most common type of clip-ons are magnetic, strong enough to stay on without falling or slipping as you move around, but easy enough to pull off when you’re done with them. Here are the benefits of clip-ons:

  • Size — they lack the full arms of normal glasses or sunglasses so they are more flat
  • Convenience — they’re much easier to use and remove than switching from full set of glasses to full set of sunglasses
  • Carrying — they are much easier to carry around in your pocket or in a thin case when compared to a full set

There are a wide range of styles and colours to choose from, though the one knock on them is they are a bit heavier and bulkier than having a separate set to wear.

Transition Lenses

Also known as Photochromatic or adaptive lenses, transition glasses are a single set of prescription glasses that darken when exposed to sunlight — the brighter the sun, the darker the lenses. When taken out of the UV radiation of sunlight, they revert to normal, clear lenses. When they darken they provide the full protection and eyesight correction of prescription sunglasses.

This means that you don’t have to switch from glasses to sunglasses and back again, or even add or remove clip-ons, because they change for you depending on the level of sunlight you’re in. The only con of transitions is they are not instantaneous when they darken or clear away, though they are very quick. They can also be more expensive than normal prescriptions for glasses or sunglasses. However, since you would have to buy a second set anyways it would work out to be around the same cost.

Polarized Contacts

Also known as tinted contact lenses, these are contact lenses that are polarized to provide protection and better sight outdoors in the bright sunlight. When you see them next to normal contact lenses, they really do just look darker and tinted in the same way that sunglasses are compared to normal glasses. Here are the benefits of tinted contacts:

  • Activity — if you are exercising or working outdoors your tinted contacts are less likely to fall off and break due to exertion or sweat
  • Cost — getting a pack of polarized contact lenses costs less than a $200+ set of new sunglasses, and you don’t have to worry about them breaking, scratching or being ruined
  • Vision — as far as being able to see in brightly lit conditions, they provide perfect clarity with no spots or angles where sunglasses might not cover in your peripheral vision

The problem with tinted contacts is that as far as putting them in, they are not nearly as quick and convenient as sunglasses, clip-ons or transitions even if you are experienced and fast at it. They’re generally best used for times of activity when you know you’ll be outside and moving around a lot and can plan for it with the contacts.

See what brands we carry or find answers to some of your frequently asked questions here.