Guide to Implantable Contact Lenses

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published February 25, 2021

Have you been told you cannot have laser eye surgery? ICLs may be the solution.

If you are considering laser vision correction surgery, an implantable contact lens (ICL) could be an option to provide you with the best vision.

The first ICL surgery was performed in 1993, with over 1 million ICLs implanted globally since then.

With many options in vision correction, it can be difficult to determine which is the best option. While LASIK is the well known name for improving vision through laser eye surgery, it may or may not be the best fit for you and your eyes.

Over the years, ICL surgery has continued to gain in popularity as ICL delivers a lens implant as a no-maintenance and permanent solution to improving vision.

If you are interested in ICL surgery visit your eye doctor to find out if you are a good candidate. 

The Find an Eye Doctor directory provides a list of eye doctors near you who can conduct a consultation and discuss the ICL option with you.

What is ICL?

The Implantable Collamer Lens (ICL), or Implantable Contact Lens as it is commonly called, is a successful alternative to laser vision correction surgery.

During Implantable Contact Lens surgery (ICL), a lens implant made from a very thin biocompatible material is placed inside the eye between the iris and the natural lens. The ICL does not replace the eye’s natural lens, but is specifically shaped to help correct vision problems just like glasses or contact lenses.

The ICL lens is not like a regular contact lens (that is placed on the cornea) but rather the ICL is inserted into the eye. The difference between ICL and glasses or contact lenses is that the lens is surgically placed into the eye and requires no maintenance from the patient.

The ICL lens implant can not be seen or felt.

Laser Eye Surgery or ICL

Laser eye surgery, or laser vision correction, uses lasers to reshape the front surface (cornea) of the eyes so that it can focus better. It can correct farsightedness, nearsightedness, and astigmatism.

Laser eye surgery is suitable for most people over the age of 18, when the eye stops growing. Lens surgery is also suitable for those who have a high prescription or later in life.

There are 3 main types of laser eye surgery: LASIK, SMILE and PRK;

  • LASIK – LASIK uses two lasers, one laser is used to open up a thin flap in the surface of the cornea, the epithelium, and another is used to reshape the cornea underneath. The protective flap is then smoothed back over and stays in place without stitches.
  • SMILE (SMall Incision Lenticule Extraction) – SMILE uses a laser to create a small, lens-shaped section of tissue within the cornea, called the lenticule. With the same laser, a small arc-shaped incision is made in the surface of the cornea. The surgeon then extracts the lenticule  through the incision. The corneal incision heals within a few days without stitches.
  • PRK (surface laser treatment) – PRK uses a laser to remove the surface epithelium covering the cornea so the surgeon can reshape your cornea. The epithelium then grows back naturally over the next few days.

Who Is Suitable for ICL Surgery?

Since LASIK removes tissue from the cornea, you might not be a good candidate if you have a thin or irregular cornea. In this case, ICL surgery might be a better choice.

Sometimes laser eye surgery is not an option, and your eye doctor will advise against laser refractive surgery and may recommend ICL.

The best candidates for ICL are patients with;

Benefits of ICL

Implantable contact lens (ICL) surgery is a safe, effective, and quick procedure that offers long-term vision correction. ICL surgery benefits include:

Minimally Invasive – An ICL procedure is short, requiring only a microscopic incision. There is no need for stitches and minimal downtime afterward.

Completely Reversible – The ICL can be replaced or removed if any problems occur or there is a change in a patient’s vision.

Successful for Patients Ineligible for LASIK – Irregular or thin corneas, large pupils, very high prescriptions, or dry eye syndrome, can disqualify someone from LASIK surgery. An ICL is a great alternative since it does not affect these issues.

Excellent Visual Quality –  With ICL, the quality of vision is excellent because the eye maintains a natural corneal shape, especially with higher prescriptions.

No Dry Eye – During ICL implantation, the corneal nerves are not disrupted, as happens with laser refractive surgery (LASIK), avoiding dry eyes commonly experienced after laser surgery.

If you are currently looking into corrective vision procedures, contact an eye doctor near you to schedule an appointment, they can discuss the options of laser and ICLs, to see which best suits you and your eyes.