Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE)

Refractive lens exchange (RLE) is a type of vision correction surgery in which the eye's natural lens is removed and replaced with a man-made intraocular lens (IOL). Alternative names occasionally used for RLE are clear lens exchange, clear lens extraction or CLE.

Refractive lens exchange is essentially the same surgical procedure as cataract surgery, which is performed on approximately three million Americans each year. But in RLE, the eye's natural lens is not clouded-the clear lens is removed and replaced with an IOL simply to change the focusing power of the eye. Refractive lens exchange can reduce or eliminate large amounts of nearsightedness and farsightedness and therefore may be a better surgical solution than LASIK for high prescriptions.

Because refractive lens exchange is an internal eye procedure with the potential for more risks and complications than laser vision correction surgery, RLE is generally reserved for people who are not good candidates for LASIK, PRK or other laser procedures or who have high amounts of nearsightedness or farsightedness that are beyond the accepted treatment range for laser surgery.

The same refractive intraocular lenses used for cataract surgery can be used for RLE, including accommodating IOLs and multifocal IOLs to correct presbyopia as well as refractive errors.

Advantages of RLE

RLE can effectively correct high amounts of nearsightedness and farsightedness that may not be adequately corrected by LASIK. It also is a viable alternative to LASIK for eyes with corneas that may be too thin for laser vision correction.

Other advantages of RLE include:

  • Rapid visual recovery
  • The normal shape and thickness of the cornea remains unchanged
  • The need for cataract surgery in the future is eliminated
  • It provides stable vision with no risk of regression (loss of corrective effect)
  • With multifocal IOLs, can correct presbyopia and reduce the need for reading glasses
  • It enables people with mild cataracts to have refractive surgery