Seeing is believing: Can't do LASIK? Check out implantable contact lenses
Would you pay $4,000 to reduce or eliminate use of your glasses?
Many senior citizens have considered that question in recent years during trips to the ophthalmologist.
Now, people as young as their 20s are eyeing new technology that can allow permanently implanted lenses to take over the job of contacts or glasses.
LASIK and other types of laser surgery can correct vision problems in younger patients, but many — such as those with irregular shaping or thinning of the cornea — are not candidates.
"The approval is for near-sightedness right now, not far-sightedness yet," said Dr. Yannis Kolettis, who, along with Dr. Thomas Wyman, will soon perform implantable contact lenses procedures at the Illinois Eye Center.
"For now, folks who have near-sightedness and are not able to undergo laser vision correction for one reason or another, they stand to benefit from this technology," Kolettis said.
Although ICLs have been available internationally for more than a decade, they only recently gained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Kolettis implanted some ICLs nearly a decade ago during a fellowship in Greece, where he spent part of his youth. He and Wyman recently trained on live surgeries in the Dominican Republic.
After applying local anesthesia, a small surgical blade is used to cut a 3-millimeter incision on the eye. The lens is implanted into the opening.
"It sits behind the color part of the eye and floats in front of the lens," Kolettis said. "It acts like a contact does, but it’s in the eye."
ICLs offer a similar benefit to multifocal lenses — an option for cataracts patients who tend to be 65 or older — that have become popular in recent years.
Like laser surgeries, the ICLs are considered elective surgery. Because multifocal lenses — also referred to as premium intraocular lenses — perform the same function as glasses or contacts, they also are deemed elective.
Insurance companies and Medicare typically cover removal of the cataract, which is a cloudy lens. They also will cover the cost of a monofocal lens, which means the patient still will need glasses for near or distance vision. To select a premium IOL, which can correct both types of vision and in some cases eliminate the need for glasses, the patient must pay the difference out of pocket.
ICL and multifocal IOL procedures cost about $2,000 per eye.
Tom Trainor, a 72-year-old from Edelstein, Ill., made that investment last August.
"Oh, yes, I’d do it again," said Trainor, who had multifocal lenses implanted by Dr. Quentin Allen. "The reason I would is having glasses and taking them off and on is a big hassle. Now, you wake up in the middle of the night, you look over at the clock and you see what time it is — like I could years ago. You don’t have to fumble for glasses."
The retired Caterpillar Inc. manager of manufacturing said even high-powered glasses made it difficult to focus for bow hunting and archery. Since the cataract surgery and installation of ReSTOR lenses, Trainor said he has bagged up all of his glasses so he can donate them to others.
"I don’t need glasses for anything at all," Trainor said. "I can read fine print. I can go from the TV to the computer to reading to outdoor activities. I can focus well."
The only complaint is blurring of distant headlights during night driving. Allen, who performs the majority of multifocal procedures at the Illinois Eye Center, said that is a common side effect.
Although money is one deterrent for ICLs, others simply don’t mind wearing glasses or removable contact lenses. For those who aren’t as physically active, $4,000 seems like an unnecessary investment.
Ophthalmologists discourage patients with eye disease, such as advanced glaucoma or macular degeneration, from spending money on an upgrade. ICLs generally aren’t recommended to people beyond their mid-40s.
"If someone gets (an ICL implanted) at, say, an age of 30, then there isn’t any reason to believe it will have to come out until we go back to operate on those individuals for cataract surgery," Kolettis said. "It gets removed, and the cataract gets replaced with an artificial implant that takes over the job of what the ICL used to do."
Whether informing a young patient considering an ICL or an older multifocal IOL candidate, ophthalmologists stress the term "reduced dependence on glasses." After all, no procedure is guaranteed to eliminate the use of glasses.
"Any time you remove the natural lens and put an artificial lens in the eye, that doesn’t give you the same vision you had when you were 20 years old," Allen said. "Those people always are going to have mild limitations in their vision that they didn’t have when they were 20 years old. This is great technology, but it’s not as good as our God-given natural lens. We can’t reproduce that level of vision yet, but we can get close."
Ryan Ori can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are implantable contact lenses safe?
Yes. Although all surgical procedures carry some risk of complications, implantable contact lenses have a proven track record of safety. Because implantable contact lenses are removable and do not alter the cornea, patients tend to feel less threatened by possible ICL risks than the potential complications associated with laser refractive surgery.
Are both eyes treated at the same time?
No. Typically, one eye is treated at a time.
Will I feel the ICL after the procedure?
No. Although you may experience slight discomfort during the procedure, you should not be able to feel a properly implanted ICL.
What results should I expect after ICL treatment?
Almost immediately after ICL treatment, you should experience clearer vision. (www.docshop.com)