Updated on  February 22, 2024
6 min read

What Are Intraocular Lens Implants (IOLs)?

8 sources cited
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Intraocular Lens Implants (IOLs) are small artificial lenses used to replace the natural eye lens during cataract surgery. They are made out of silicone, acrylic, or other plastic material. 

Over one million cataract surgeries are performed in the United States annually and have a 99% success rate. Intraocular lens implants are the only way to remove cataracts (the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy) and restore vision.1,2

Intraocular Lens Implants IOLs shot on clear background

Cataracts are a normal part of aging, with over 50% of people over 80 living with cataracts. Other causes of cataracts include eye injury and complications from glaucoma surgery.3

Common cataract symptoms include:

  • The eye’s lens appears cloudy
  • Developing cloudy or blurry vision
  • Colors look faded
  • Double vision 
  • Light sensitivity
  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Frequently needing to change eyeglasses or contact lens prescription

Types of IOLs and How They Work

Different types of intraocular lenses are used for cataract surgery, ranging from lenses that correct for a single distance to ones that correct for multiple distances. 

An ophthalmologist will work with you to determine what type of lens will give you the best vision outcome.

Monofocal Lens

Monofocal lenses are the most common type of IOL used in cataract surgery. It has one focal distance that can correct near, distance, or medium-range vision. 

Typically, people with monofocal lenses designed to enhance distance vision must also wear reading glasses during up-close work. The same is true for monofocal lenses designed to correct for near vision, with eyeglasses needed to accommodate distance vision. 

Toric Lens

Toric IOL lenses are designed to correct for a refractive error caused by astigmatism (uneven curve in your cornea or lens). 

The toric IOL lens also corrects for distance vision, giving you the best vision outcome possible. 

Multifocal Lens 

Multifocal lenses are popular for people who simultaneously need vision correction for both near and distant vision.

The multifocal IOL is designed with multiple zones set at different powers allowing for clear vision without eyeglasses.

Multifocal lenses take time to get used to, but they typically have positive vision outcomes. 

Accommodative IOL 

Accommodative lenses are designed to move or change shape within your eye, allowing eyes to focus at different distances. 

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What are the Benefits of IOLs?

Replacing your natural lens with intraocular lenses is the only way to remove cataracts and improve your vision. Nine out of 10 people who get intraocular lenses report positive vision outcomes.

The most prominent benefits of IOLs include the following:

  • Clear vision 
  • Brighter colors
  • Easier to drive at night
  • Improved quality of life
  • Quick and safe procedure 

Do IOLs Come With Risks?

While inserting intraocular lenses is one of the safest and most effective surgeries, it does come with a few risks including:

  • Infection
  • Swelling or bleeding
  • Changes in eye pressure
  • Retinal detachment
  • Secondary cataracts

It is important to contact your eye doctor right away if you experience any complications after cataract surgery.

Intraocular Lens Procedure

Intraocular lenses are used to replace the natural lens during cataract surgery. Surgery is recommended for people with vision loss that affects their quality of life and everyday activities.  

Bimanual cataract extraction with IOL implantation

The intraocular lens procedure includes first softening the natural lens with ultrasound and using suction to remove it. The natural lens is then replaced with an artificial clear intraocular lens.

The procedure only takes about 20 minutes. 


Your eye doctor will give you detailed guidelines on preparing for cataract surgery. These instructions typically include the following:

  • Obtaining measurements and tests on your eye about a week before surgery. 
  • Using medicated eye drops to help prevent infection during surgery.
  • You may be asked to stop taking certain medications.
  • Avoiding eating or drinking the night before surgery.
  • Cleaning your eyelids/lashes with baby shampoo the night before.
  • Bringing someone to drive you home after the surgery.

The Surgery

Cataract surgery is a quick procedure that is usually painless. It typically takes place in an outpatient setting, allowing you to go home on the day of surgery. 

The entire surgery takes about one hour. You will be given medicated eye drops before the procedure to eliminate pain. You may also be given medication to help you remain calm and relaxed.

Cataract surgery steps include:

  1. Use tiny tools to make a small incision into your natural lens
  2. Break up the natural lens and remove it using suction
  3. Replace the natural lens with an artificial intraocular lens
  4. Place an eye patch over your eye to promote healing

Post-Op Care

Immediately after surgery, you will be moved to post-op care to recover and rest before going home. 

Your eye may feel uncomfortable after surgery but will start to feel better after a few days. Complete healing takes about eight weeks.

After surgery, you will be encouraged to avoid touching your eye, bending over, or lifting heavy objects for a few weeks. You may be given medicated eye drops to prevent infection. 

A follow-up appointment will be scheduled before you leave the surgery site. 

Call your doctor right away if you notice the following symptoms after cataract surgery:

  • Vision changes
  • Eye pain
  • Red eyes
  • Floaters, including flashes of light, dark spots, or squiggly lines across your line of sight

How Much Do IOLs Cost?

The cost of IOLs depends on the type of lens used during cataract surgery. Toric and multifocal lenses are more expensive than the standard monofocal lens. 

The average cost of IOL lenses, not including the cost of surgery, include:

  • Toric lenses, which cost about $1,500
  • IOLs, which correct refractive errors (multifocal and accommodating lenses) and cost $2,500

Medicare and private insurance typically cover cataract surgery, including intraocular lenses. People without health insurance can expect to pay around $3,500 per eye, not including the cost of anesthesia. 

Factors that can increase the cost of IOLs and cataract surgery include:

  • Geographical area
  • Where the surgery is performed (outpatient vs. inpatient)
  • Reputation and skill of the eye surgeon
  • Type of IOL inserted
  • Pre- and post-operative medications and doctor visits

Are IOLs Right For You?

Intraocular lenses are recommended for people with vision loss and discomfort due to cataracts. 

People with ocular comorbidities are not good candidates for certain multifocal IOLs. These comorbidities include:

  • Vision loss from glaucoma
  • Macular degeneration 
  • Severe dry eye disease 
  • Irregular astigmatism

Alternative Treatments

Having your natural lens replaced with an artificial intraocular lens is not an option for everyone.  

While surgery is the only way to remove cataracts, alternative treatments are available to improve vision loss and correct refractive errors. These include:

  • A customized eyeglass prescription
  • Contact lenses
  • Wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV light
  • Quitting smoking 
  • Staying on top of chronic health conditions 
  • Yearly comprehensive eye exams from your eye doctor


Intraocular lenses (IOLs) are artificial lenses that replace the eyes’ natural lenses during cataract surgery. Different types of IOLs are available depending on your vision needs including monofocal, multifocal, and toric lenses.  

There are multiple benefits of IOLs, like improved vision and quality of life. Risks from an IOL procedure include infection, swelling, bleeding, and secondary cataract. The IOL implant surgery only takes one hour and is typically painless.

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Updated on  February 22, 2024
8 sources cited
Updated on  February 22, 2024
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cataract: Vision and eye health surveillance system,” 2021.
  2. UCI Health. “Cataract surgery: What you should know,” 2018. 
  3. National Eye Institute. “Cataracts,” 2023. 
  4. Boyd, K. “IOL Implants: Lens replacement after cataracts.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022. 
  5. Better Vision Guide. “Cost of cataract surgery,” 2021. 
  6. National Eye Institute. “Cataract surgery,” 2023. 
  7. Stanford Medicine. “Cataracts and intraocular lenses,” n.d.
  8. Cataract and Refractive Surgery Today, “Identifying patients who should not receive a premium lens,” 2019.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.