Implantable Contact Lenses - Laser Eye Surgery Guide

Implantable Contact Lenses are a good alternative for patients who are unable to have laser eye surgery for whatever reason. They are similar to your traditional contact lens except they are fixed in place rather than sitting on the surface of the eye.

They are suitable for patients whose prescriptions fall outside the recommended guidelines for laser eye surgery.

They can correct moderate to severe levels of refractive errors such as astigmatism, long-sightedness and short-sightedness.

If the implantable lens is inserted into the eye to replace a diseased or ‘faulty’ lens then it is known as ‘Refractive Lens Exchange’ (RLE). Why ‘exchange?’ By this we mean exchanging the diseased lens of the eye for a synthetic version.

If you wish to know more about RLE then visit our section – ‘Eye Surgery: Clear Lens Extraction & IOL.

  1. What is an ‘ICL?’
  2. What is it used to treat?
  3. Who is suitable for an ICL?
  4. What are the risks of an ICL?
  5. What are the benefits of an ICL?
  6. What questions should I ask at my consultation?
  7. How much does an ICL cost?
  8. What is the ICL procedure?
  9. What does recovery from an ICL involve?

What is an ‘ICL?’

An ICL is an ‘Implantable Contact Lens’: it is a synthetic lens, very similar to a contact lens, which is permanently implanted into the eye to improve vision.

This lens is placed in front of the natural lens in your eye, and behind the iris. Standard contact lenses are placed by you on the surface of your eye and are only worn for a set period of time.

What is it used to treat?

It is carried out on patients with levels of refractive errors which are too high for laser eye surgery. It can also be used during cataract surgery. In this case, a synthetic ICL is implanted as a replacement for a cloudy lens (cataract).

Who is suitable for an ICL?

Patients who have been turned down from LASIK or another type of laser eye surgery due to a medical condition or an eye problem such as thin corneas.

Most people are suitable for an ICL although the following factors are taken into account:

  • Age: ideal for patients aged 21 to 45. As people age there is an increased need for reading glasses due to presbyopia and this does worsen with age. Cataracts also become more of an issue.

In the latter case, refractive lens exchange can treat cataracts.

  • Moderate to severe level of refractive error.
  • Thin corneas: this is what usually excludes patients from LASIK.
  • Good eye health: your eyes must be in good condition and free from glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or cataracts.

What are the risks of an ICL?

Implantable contact lenses are both safe and reliable. But, there are risks attached to any procedure.

Complications are rare but can happen and include
the following:

  • Problems with glare and night vision in general
  • Infection although antibiotic eye can prevent this
  • Structural damage to the eye. This can lead to retinal problems, glaucoma, and inflammation of the iris, corneal breakdown and cataracts.

To reiterate: these are rare but it’s as well to be aware of them.

What are the benefits of an ICL?

There are a several benefits of this procedure. These include:

  • No risk of dry eye (which is a side effect of laser eye surgery)
  • This procedure is reversible
  • Very safe and successful
  • Can treat severe forms of myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism
  • No removal or reshaping of corneal tissue
  • No need to remove the lens for disposal or cleaning
  • No sensation or awareness of wearing this lens
  • Clear vision
  • Convenient

What questions should I ask at my consultation?

What you will be concerned with is the surgeon’s level of experience, qualifications, number of procedures performed, success rates and the procedure itself.

During your consultation, ask about the different types of lenses and which is the most suitable for you. Also, ask about the side effects and the aftercare service.

How much does an ICL cost?

You will notice that all clinics charge different prices for the same procedure. This is due to the location, surgeon’s fees, the technology used and facilities.

Many clinics do not show their prices which means you will have to contact them to obtain a quote. Do this with several clinics and then compare the prices, and what you get for that price.

To give you a rough idea, ICL can cost from £1,395 per eye.

What is the ICL procedure?

There are two types of ICL: Artisan and STAAR. The procedure you have will depend on which one you choose.

In either case, your eye will be numbed by anaesthetic eye drops. It will also be held open by a special ‘clip’ which means you don’t have to do this.

Artisan (Phakic) ICL

The surgeon makes a tiny incision in the side of the cornea before inserting the ICL. This ICL is made of a synthetic polymer and is inserted via an ultrasonic probe.

It is placed in front of the iris (attached) and behind the lens.
The surgeon then closes the incision by means of a series of tiny stitches.

He/she will then fasten a protective eye shield over the treated eye which has to be worn for up to half an hour after the surgery.


The surgeon makes the incision in the same way as for the Artisan lens. He or she will insert the ICL (folded) behind the iris. Once in place it will unfold itself quite naturally. Stitches are no required.

Again, a plastic eye shield is worn for a set period of time following this surgery.

What does recovery from an ICL involve?

You can have a couple of hours rest at the clinic following surgery before being allowed home. The surgeon will give you eye drops (antibiotic) which you must take to prevent any infection. He or she will also give you a set of instructions on what to do following surgery and the time of your first post-surgery check up.

This check up is the first in a series and will take place the day after your procedure.

The other sessions will be arranged over a period of months. You will find that they are close together to start with but will be spaced out as time goes on. These are designed to monitor your progress.

You may experience a ‘scratchy’ feeling with your eye although this will ease. Your vision will improve straight away which will be a very pleasant surprise.

You will be able to go back to work, drive and do your other normal activities the day after surgery.