How to Choose an Intraocular Lens by Jeffrey Tran, M.D.

August 14, 2020

Dr. Jeffrey Tran is a comprehensive ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon at the Marietta Eye Clinic.

Cataracts, which are clouded lenses due to natural aging, are irreversible but modern surgical practices offer patients more benefits than ever from cataract surgery. When clouded lenses impede on a patient’s day to day life, cataract surgery may be recommended to restore clearer vision. During surgery, an eye surgeon will remove the cloudy natural lenses within the eye and replace it with an artificial lens implant, referred to as an intraocular lens (IOL). Most IOLs today are acrylic, although some are made of other plastic compositions. IOLs usually also have a coating that protects your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Types of IOLs

IOLs come in a variety of focus powers, just like prescription glasses or contacts. This means that in addition to eliminating your cataract, cataract surgery can also correct for myopia, hyperopia, presbyopia, and astigmatism. Depending on your vision before surgery and the lenses you choose, your dependency on glasses or contacts post-surgery can be greatly reduced or even eliminated. The length and curve of your eye will be measured before surgery and used to set the focusing power of your IOL. You can have the same kind of IOL implanted in each eye or combine two different types of IOLs to achieve custom vision.

There are multiple categories of IOLs currently on the market. Some of the most common options include:

  • Monofocal
  • Toric
  • Multifocal
  • Extended depth of focus

In the sections below, we’ll explore the different kinds of IOLs and look at their benefits and disadvantages. There is not one best option. The IOL that works best for you will depend on your eye, your individual lifestyle, and your personal vision needs.

Monofocal IOLs

Monofocal IOLs are the most common lenses implanted during cataract surgery. Like monofocal glasses, they have only one focal distance. A monofocal IOL can be set to focus for near-sighted, medium range, or far-sighted vision. Having one IOL set to near vision and the other set for distance vision is referred to as monovision.

Medicare and most insurance providers completely cover the cost of monofocal IOLs.

Monofocal IOLs are also available in toric form, meaning they can correct for astigmatism, as well. Patients with astigmatism usually see better with toric monofocal IOLs than with regular monofocal IOLs. A toric IOL may not completely correct astigmatism, so you may still need to wear glasses or contacts after surgery. An additional procedure, which may or may not be covered by insurance, called limbal relaxing incisions, may be performed during cataract surgery to further correct astigmatism.

Multifocal IOLs

Multifocal IOLs allow you to see at multiple distances with a single lens. Like multifocal eyeglasses, they have multiple focal zones. Multifocal IOLs are available in bifocal, trifocal, and progressive forms. When multifocal IOLs are implanted, a patient’s brain can automatically switch between the focal points. Multifocal IOLs generally allow better and more sustained near-distance vision compared to monofocal IOLs, leaving you less dependent on reading glasses.

One drawback to multifocal IOLs is that they can cause more glare from lights and may reduce contrast in your vision, making it harder to see at night. You may also need to wear reading glasses for fine print.

Multifocal IOLs are not covered by most insurance providers. They are also available in toric form for patients with astigmatism.

Extended Depth of Focus IOLs

Extended depth of focus IOLs are the latest advancement in lens implants and are used to create a single elongated focal point. Compared to multifocal IOLs, extended depth of focus IOLs offer a larger range of vision.

One downside to extended depth of focus IOLs is that they have been shown to cause glare or starbursts. Additionally, reading glasses may still be required for fine print.

Extended depth of focus IOLs are not covered by most insurance providers.

Speak with an Ophthalmologist About Which IOL is Best for Your Needs

In addition to your vision preferences, a variety of other factors can affect which type of IOL will work best for you, including power ranges required, aberrations on your eyes, and your level of astigmatism. It is important to have a comprehensive examination and consultation so your ophthalmologist can explain the options available to you and the benefits and disadvantages of each IOL option relative to your eyes.

More About Cataract Surgeon Jeffrey Tran, M.D.

Dr. Tran is a comprehensive ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon at the Marietta Eye Clinic. Dr. Tran earned his medical degree from Emory University School of Medicine and completed a residency at Cullen Eye Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the American College of Physicians, and the American Medical Association. Read more about Dr. Tran here.

References and Additional Resources

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. It describes itself as a “global community of 32,000 medical doctors who protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public.” Its website is a great resource to learn more about how to care for your eyes.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) describes itself as the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for our nation’s health, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry (O.D.), optometric professionals, and optometry students. 

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