What Is Aphakia?

Aphakia is a condition in which you're missing the lens of one or both of your eyes. You can be born that way or lose the lens due to an injury. Or your doctor might remove it during an operation for cataracts.

When you have aphakia, it's hard to see things clearly with the affected eye. But doctors can correct it with surgery, special glasses, or contact lenses.

What Do Eye Lenses Do?

The lens is a clear part of your eye found behind your iris (the colored area in your eye). Think of it like the lens of a camera. It widens and narrows to focus rays of light onto your retina so you can see clearly.

Symptoms of Aphakia

When you're missing a lens in your eye, you may have these vision problems:

  • Farsightedness, where you have trouble seeing things close to you
  • Colors that look faded
  • Problems focusing on objects as they move closer or farther away

What Causes Aphakia?

Aphakia is most often caused by surgery for cataracts. In some cases, genetics or an injury may be to blame.

Cataract surgery. A cataract is when the usually clear lens of your eye has a cloudy area. Most cataracts develop in older adults. But some babies are born with them, or get them in the first 6 months of their lives.

You may not notice a cataract at first. But over time, they can make your vision blurry. You might feel like you’re looking through frosted glass.

When this happens, you or your child might need surgery to remove an eye lens, causing aphakia. Usually, the doctor replaces your lens with an artificial one.

Genetics. It's rare, but some children are born without lenses. Doctors call this congenital aphakia. Babies with secondary congenital aphakia are born with a lens, but it’s absorbed or detached before or during birth.

Injuries. You can also lose a lens as a result of an injury to your eye.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor can detect aphakia in a standard eye exam. If your unborn baby has it, your doctor may be able to find it with an ultrasound.

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Doctors usually treat aphakia with surgery. In some cases, they may use special contact lenses or glasses instead.

Surgery. If your child was born with cataracts or got them as an infant, your doctor may want them to get surgery to remove the cloudy lens as soon as possible. But vision changes as children grow. So, whether they were born with aphakia or had cataract surgery, they may not get a replacement lens implanted until they're about 2 years old.

If you’re an adult with cataracts, your doctor will probably operate to remove the damaged lens and replace it with a fake one. It's called an intraocular lens (IOL). You can also get IOL surgery if you lost a lens to an injury.

Sometimes, people need contacts or eyeglasses to fine-tune their vision after IOL surgery.

Aphakic contact lenses. Children and adults with aphakia can be fitted for contact lenses that help them focus. They're often used in children too young for IOL surgery. Some companies have developed contacts specifically for aphakia.

Aphakic glasses. These are rarely used, most often in people with aphakia in both eyes. The lenses are thick and heavy. This may make them uncomfortable for children.

Talk to your doctor anytime you notice changes in your vision.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Whitney Seltman on July 23, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Lens," "Accommodation," "IOL Implants: Lens Replacements After Cataracts."

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences: "Congenital primary aphakia."

Kellogg Eye Center (Michigan Medicine): "Anatomy of the Eye."

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: "Aphakia."

National Eye Institute: "Cataracts."

Mayo Clinic: "Cataracts," "Farsightedness," "Eye Exam," "Cataract Surgery."

Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology: "Prenatal Diagnosis of congenital aphakia."

National Keratoconus Foundation: "How Does the Human Eye Work?"

Royal National Institute of Blind People: "Congenital Cataracts."

California School for the Blind: "Aphakia."

Romanian Journal of Ophthalmology: "Secondary congenital aphakia."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Cataracts."

Journal of Ophthalmic & Vision Research: "Optical Correction of Aphakia in Children."

Cleveland Clinic: "Cataracts in Children."

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