June is Cataract Awareness Month, a time aimed at raising awareness for the world’s leading cause of blindness. According to the World Health Organization, at least 2.2 billion people globally have some type of vision impairment, about half of which were preventable or have yet to be addressed. Other leading causes of vision impairment include uncorrected refractive errors, macular degeneration, and glaucoma; however, the relatively high prevalence of cataracts poses the most significant financial burden by the measure of lost productivity. Thus, the demand for treating this condition continuously grows, and millions of cataract surgeries are now performed globally every year.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. This condition most frequently occurs as a result of age-related degenerative processes in the lens, but can also be associated with ocular trauma, metabolic disorders, or congenital infections. The clouding of the lens distorts incoming light, thus impairing one’s vision. Typically, only moderate to severe cases undergo cataract surgery, in which a patient undergoes a procedure called phacoemulsification, and the natural lenses of the eyes are replaced with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL).

During phacoemulsification, a small incision is made at the edge of the cornea to create an opening in the membrane that surrounds the lens. A small probe is then inserted and vibrates ultrasonically to fragment the cloudy lens into smaller pieces, which are then suctioned out of the capsule by an attachment on the tip of the probe. After the lens particles are removed, an IOL is carefully implanted and positioned into the lens’s natural capsule. Many lenses today are made to be foldable, so once it is inserted, it unfolds and is positioned in place.

Beyond their foldable capabilities, there are several ways in which IOLs are categorised. This categorisation is often based on a combination of their physical specifications and indications for use, such as composition material, focal lengths, and toricity, among others. Advanced-technology IOLs, which include aspheric IOLs, toric IOLs, multifocal IOLs, and accommodative IOLs, have significantly shifted the way in which cataracts are now managed. Newer IOL technologies including trifocal, quadrifocal, and extended-depth-of-focus (EDOF) lenses have been instrumental in providing spectacle-free vision at all distances, as well as improvements in optics and aberration profiles.

According to GlobalData, the global IOL market was worth $4.1bn in 2022 and is set to grow steadily at least until the end of the decade. This is primarily driven by the growing capacity of many hospitals and clinics across all regions to perform more cataract surgeries, as the unmet need for patients to be surgically treated remains high.