When you have cataract surgery, multifocal lens implants can reduce your need for reading glasses. But they’re not perfect. “Many people find these lenses leave them with bothersome glare, or ‘halos,’ that negatively impact their night vision,” explains ophthalmologist Aimee Haber, MD. “This situation has been frustrating for patients and ophthalmologists alike.”
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A lens approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016 is delivering much better results, she says. Symfony® lenses correct the presbyopia (difficulty focusing up close) that often necessitates reading glasses as you age. Some also correct astigmatism (blurring caused by a misshapen cornea or lens).
“Rather than giving you a ‘sweet spot’ (or spots) where you can see clearly, it provides continuous range of vision. This more closely approximates the ability we have in our 20s to change the focal point from distance to intermediate to near vision,” she explains.
What is a cataract?
A cataract is a clouding and yellowing of the natural lens that focuses light in your eye. Affecting more than half of those who live into their 80s, cataracts can be caused not only by aging but also by eye injury, steroid medicines and diseases like diabetes.
Surgeons remove a cataract by breaking it into tiny pieces using ultrasound, and removing those pieces through a small, self-sealing incision. In its place, they implant an artificial clear lens. The procedure takes about 10 minutes.
What do different artificial lenses do?
“So most people who needed prescription glasses before cataract surgery would still need them after surgery,” says Dr. Haber.
In 1998, the first artificial lens to correct astigmatism allowed patients to rely less on their prescription glasses; but many still needed over-the-counter readers.
A little more than a decade ago, the first multifocal lenses aimed at correcting presbyopia arrived. Like bifocals and trifocals, part of each lens corrected for distance, while part corrected for near, vision.
“One type of Symfony lens can help correct presbyopia and astigmatism at the same time,” she says. “The vast majority of my patients who choose this lens have excellent vision for reading, computer work and driving – all without the need for glasses.”
Most patients have improved night vision, without significant glare or halos.
What does the new lens do?
The new lens extends the depth of focus, improves contrast and enhances the overall visual experience, according to Dr. Haber.
“Many patients say their vision is even clearer and sharper than before their cataract,” she says.
The procedure to insert it is no different from any other cataract surgery. “Twilight” sedation is used, and patients experience no pain during or after surgery.
Vision is generally very good immediately after surgery, and patients can read and watch TV the next day.
Do you have to pay more for the lens?
There is an additional out-of-pocket charge for the Symfony lens because Medicare and health insurance plans cover only the traditional replacement lens.
“Once people realize they may never again have to buy expensive bifocals or trifocals, or even reading glasses, the price often seems to be well worth it,” says Dr. Haber.
Patients also appreciate being able to be active without having to wear glasses, she adds.