Implantable contact lenses, or permanent contact lenses, are a type of contact lens that are ‘permanently’ fixed inside the eye. They do not need to be removed or cleaned, and provide an attractive alternative to glasses, disposable contact lenses, and getting laser eye surgery.
But how does implantable contact lens surgery work, exactly?
And what are the pros and cons of getting it?
What is Implantable Contact Lens (ICL) surgery?
Implantable contact lens surgery is the process of having ‘permanent’ contact lenses fitted, known as phakic intraocular lenses (PIOLs). These are made of clear, flexible plastic and can be used to improve vision for those with, approximately:
- A stable short-sighted prescription of up to -17
- A stable long-sighted prescription of less than +6
- A stable prescription of up to +4.50 for those with astigmatism
Note: if you have any eye health problems, you might not be a suitable candidate for ICL surgery. You also have to be at least 18-years-old to have the procedure.
There are two kinds of PIOLs available:
- The Visian intraocular collamer lens (ICL), which is a soft and flexible implant that’s positioned behind the natural lens and iris.
- The Artisan intraocular lens (IOL), which clips onto the front of the iris.
Your surgeon will advise as to which implant is right for you, although the Visian lens is usually the most suitable option.
What does ICL surgery involve?
Implantable contact lens surgery is a straightforward and painless process.
First, your surgeon will administer anaesthetic eye drops to numb and dilate your eyes. You’ll also receive a sedative, if necessary.
Then, a small keyhole incision is made in the edge of the cornea, which creates a ‘tunnel’ for the folded ICL to be inserted through. Once positioned, the implant is unfolded into place using a lens insertion device.
Both eyes can usually be treated on the same day, although your surgeon will decide what’s right for you, based on your specific prescription and medical records.
Before leaving the clinic, you will need to wait for an hour or so for an immediate check-up. Your surgeon will then review your progress and advise on what aftercare is required.
Note: some patients require a quick and pain-free treatment called laser iridotomy before ICL surgery. This involves resting a laser on your eyes to prevent fluid buildup and pressure after surgery. If you need laser iridotomy, your consultant will talk you through the process.
ICL aftercare and recovery
One of the biggest benefits of implantable contact lens surgery is that it usually doesn’t require extensive aftercare or recovery time.
Immediately after the surgery, you may experience mild side effects, such as blurry vision, light sensitivity, and slight discomfort. These symptoms are only temporary, however, and should only last for a few days or so.
Because of the immediate symptoms, you will need to arrange for someone to drive you home on the day of your procedure.
Most patients can return to work the day after their surgery, although ICL recovery time is different for everyone. You should only resume day-to-day activities when you feel ready to do so.
In terms of aftercare, you’ll usually be asked to:
- Attend a check-up appointment one day after the surgery
- Apply steroid and antibiotic eye drops, as instructed
- Use artificial tears if your eyes feel dry
- Attend annual check-up appointments
Benefits of ICL surgery
The obvious benefit of implantable contact lens surgery is significantly improved vision. More than 95% of patients are satisfied with their ICL surgery, and report life-changing results.
That aside, the main advantage of implantable contact lens surgery is that it provides an alternative eye treatment for those who cannot receive laser eye surgery, as it’s less invasive and doesn’t reshape the cornea.
Other notable benefits include:
- Fast recovery time due to no tissue being removed
- It can be used to treat a wide prescription range
- There is no risk of laser-induced dry eye or corneal damage
- You cannot see or feel the ICLs after surgery
- The lenses require no maintenance (unlike disposable lenses)
- ICL surgery is ‘additive’, which means it can be reversed if necessary
- It’s a painless and fast procedure
- The lenses are made of a biopolymer derived from collagen, which is the most abundant protein in the human body. This means they are biocompatible and won’t be rejected by your body.
- The implantable lenses have in-built UV protection for the eyes, which protects them from sunlight.
Costs of ICL surgery
The cost of implantable contact lens surgery depends on your choice of clinic and prescription. Usually, though, you should expect to pay around £3,000 per eye.
This is more expensive than other eye surgeries, such as laser eye surgery, but it comes with fewer risks, shorter recovery time, and high success rates. See how it compares to prices of other lens replacement surgery here.
Is ICL surgery safe and what are the risks?
All eye surgeries carry risks, but implantable contact lens surgery is a very safe and common procedure. That said, although complications are rare, ICL surgery could lead to:
- Blurry vision if the lens isn’t the right size
- Early cataracts if the implant damaged the crystalline lens
- Potential vision loss linked to high eye pressure
- Eye infection
- Additional surgery to correct any issues
These risks can be mitigated by an experienced surgeon at a trusted clinic. It’s important to research all clinics and surgeons before booking your surgery.
Remember: ICL surgery is not for everyone — check with an optometrist to find out if you are a suitable candidate.
How long does the ICL procedure usually take?
The surgery itself is very quick, usually lasting less than 30 minutes.
Prior to the surgery, you’ll also have to attend at least one appointment, as well as multiple appointments after it. These will usually last around 30 minutes or so.
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