The FAA moved quickly to approve a cataract-correcting replacement lens said to outperform the standard options, a relatively new product that earned the praise of an AOPA member who now seeks to pass the word to fellow pilots.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Tecnis Symfony Intraocular Lens in July 2016, the first of a new type of intraocular lens that allows the eye to focus on objects near and far, according to Abbott, the medical device and pharmaceutical company that produces the lens. In addition to correcting cataracts (by replacing clouded lenses), the Tecnis Symfony also corrects other vision problems, as Illinois pilot and AOPA life member David Kleine reported in emails to the association.
Following that initial contact, AOPA staff reached out to FAA medical officials to confirm the Tecnis Symfony replacement lens option has been approved for pilots. While that approval process typically requires a year after a new product’s introduction, AOPA learned FAA doctors are also enthusiastic about the new lens option, and it was quickly approved. Aviation medical examiners (AMEs) are empowered to issue medical certificates at the time of exam to pilots whose cataracts have been corrected with the Abbott lens (and who are otherwise qualified). A report on the lens replacement procedure and its effect from the eye surgeon, when presented to the AME, will facilitate the examiner issuing a certificate to the pilot without further FAA review being required. (AOPA members who enroll in Pilot Protection Services are eligible for assistance with medical certification preparation, advocacy, and questions.)
Cataracts are cloudy areas in the eye’s lens that are common among older adults, according to an online reference from the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University. They may first appear when the affected person is in his or her 40s, but typically don’t affect vision until age 60 or later. Progression of the lens clouding typically degrades vision slowly over a period of years. More than half of Americans age 65 and older have some degree of cataract-related vision loss.
While cataracts can affect much younger people with certain metabolic disorders, or following eye trauma, those cases are comparatively rare. Another online reference, All About Vision, notes that “premium” lenses can cost an additional $1,000 or more per eye in out-of-pocket costs, depending on insurance coverage, compared to standard replacement lenses.