Refractive lens exchange (RLE), also known as custom lens replacement surgery, is a type of vision correction procedure in which one or both of the natural lenses of the eye are replaced with a focused artificial lens. This intraocular lens (IOL) corrects eye prescription issues such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, and is an alternative to waiting for cataract surgery. It’s a precise, 15-minute procedure and most patients notice visual improvements within hours of surgery.

Recover from refractive lens surgery – steps and process

As you explore St. Louis refractive lens exchange surgery options, you may wonder, how long does it take to recover? As in completely healed. Many factors affect the healing process, including patient age and overall health, home environment, and personal habits, for example. While complete healing runs a matter of weeks, most patients experience enhanced vision within hours of the surgery and feel that their vision is clear enough the next day to resume normal activities, such as driving. The process of healing from custom lens replacement surgery follows the general timeline outlined here:

Day of refractive lens exchange

The eyes have an amazing capacity for healing, and that process begins immediately after patients leave our St. Louis practice following refractive lens exchange. In some cases, our patients are seeing better even before they have left the clinic. For example, in 2019, Dr. Stephen Haring, an experienced and highly regarded St. Louis eye doctor, chose Brinton Vision for his custom lens replacement surgery. Immediately following his procedure, several of his St. Louis eye doctor colleagues, who were watching, wanted to look at his eyes. We spontaneously brought Dr. Haring directly from the laser room into one of our patient rooms, and less than 60 seconds after the conclusion of his lens replacement surgery he was able to see 20/20 and use his cell phone with his surgery eye.

Most CLR patients experience enhanced vision within hours of surgery.

Even if you feel your vision is clear enough to drive home or resume strenuous physical activity on the day of your lens implant surgery, we advise our patients to become a couch potato for the day and take it easy! Reading, using a computer, cooking, or working at a desk are fine and will not hurt your eyes, however, do follow your Brinton Vision surgeon’s instructions and use your eye drops. You will have your Brinton Vision eye surgeon’s mobile phone number, so feel free to call if you have any additional questions.

After custom lens replacement surgery

Awakening the morning after RLE surgery is often described by our patients as a miraculous experience. Those who have worn glasses or contacts their whole life will tell us it is surreal to awaken and see their alarm clock across their room or turn to their partner and see their glowing smile without the necessity of glasses or contacts. Those who previously struggled with up close reading are amazed that they can pick up their cell phone off their nightstand and read a text message, check the news, or send an email.

You will come to Brinton Vision and see our smiling faces the next morning as we conduct your one-day follow-up visit. This appointment is usually brief and involves a thumbs up and a lot of high fives. After this visit we clear practically everyone to return to work and resume normal activities!

Patients may shower, drive, go shopping, go out to eat, work, and perform their usual daily activities at this point. The only exception would be if your work involves one of the following:

  1. swimming under water, like if you are a scuba diving instructor
  2. anything that could cause your neck veins to bulge or your face to turn red, like if you are a piano mover
  3. anything that would cause a direct impact to the eye, like if you practice martial arts

Patients who have unique or unusual daily activities are welcome to ask their experienced Brinton Vision surgeon for guidance. While everyone heals at a different pace, your St. Louis eye surgeon will monitor your progress closely and provide any needed care.

During the first few weeks you will continue to take your eye drops. Most patients notice common side effects at this time, including glare and halos around a point source of light (like car headlights at night, particularly in the rain) and dry eyes. These side effects typically improve as the eyes heal.

This is an exciting time when many patients tell us that they see things they cannot even remember seeing before. It’s as if they have a new lens on life. You can continue to get more crispness and sharpness in your vision over the course of the first few months. Remember also that it takes time to adapt to your vision, even if it is clearer.

Are you ready to take the next
step in your vision journey?

When can I lift after RLE surgery?

It can be tempting for a dedicated gym enthusiast to start pumping iron as soon as humanly possible—fitness fanatics hate to lose progress—but your doctor will want you to avoid the Valsalva maneuver for the first week after lens implant surgery. The Valsalva maneuver involves forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway, and can cause your neck veins to bulge and your face to turn red. This can happen with heavy weightlifting or powerlifting. Everyday lifting is fine, however this is a good time to review proper ergonomics. If you are lifting a 3-year-old into the car or picking up several bags of groceries, keep a strong back and lift with your knees. The idea behind avoiding the Valsalva maneuver is to avoid putting pressure on your eye, which could affect healing. So no karate, breakdancing, or strongman competitions until you get the all-clear!

How much can I lift after RLE surgery?

It depends on you. For our St. Louis custom lens replacement patients, our guidance is to avoid the Valsalva maneuver. A simple guideline is, if whatever you are lifting is heavy enough and strenuous enough that your neck veins are bulging or your face is turning red, don’t lift it.

Can I exercise after lens replacement surgery?

Yes! Most of our patients will walk the dog the next morning before coming in to see us or do their usual elliptical workout. Avoid the Valsalva maneuver.

How can I reduce the risks of refractive lens exchange?

The most effective way to minimize the risks of any procedure, including custom lens replacement surgery, is to attend all of your follow-up appointments and closely follow your surgeon’s instructions. One of those instructions will be to keep your healing eyes lubricated. Your doctor will show you which eye drops to use. Eye drops aid in healing, keep you seeing your best, and keep you comfortable in the process.

If you think you might be a candidate for refractive lens exchange (RLE), start your journey to clear vision by taking our online60-second self-test, scheduling your Brinton Vision Ocular Analysis, or calling Brinton Vision at 314-375-2020.

View the next article: Does Lens Replacement Improve Vision?

Dr. Jason P. Brinton is an internationally recognized specialist in the field of LASIK and refractive surgery. He is a graduate of Harvard College, earned his medical doctorate from the Harvard Medical School and is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology.