What is involved in cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is one of the most common operations performed and one of the safest and most effective. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a substitute lens. If cataracts are present in both eyes, they cannot be removed at the same time. Your physician will need to perform surgery on each eye separately.

Cataracts are generally removed in one of two ways:

  • Phacoemulsification (Also called small incision cataract surgery.)
    This, most common, type of cataract removal procedure involves the surgeon making a small incision on the side of the cornea - the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye - where a tiny probe emits ultrasound waves to soften and break up the cloudy center of the lens. The cataract is then removed by suction through the same incision.
  • Extracapsular surgery
    During this procedure, a longer incision is made on the side of the cornea to remove the hard center of the lens; the remainder of the lens is then removed by suction.

Intraocular Lenses

According to the National Eye Institute, in most cataract surgeries the removed lens is replaced by an intraocular lens (IOL). An IOL is a clear, artificial lens that requires no care and becomes part of the eye. With an IOL, a person has improved vision because light will again be able to pass through clearly to the retina. The recipient of the new lens does not see it or feel it.

After surgery and a brief period of recovery, colors will appear more vivid and faces will become clearer. Most importantly, patients are able to get back to the activities that they enjoy. Cataract surgery is usually performed when the patient is no longer satisfied with his/her vision. During surgery, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a clear, artificial lens. Because most lifestyles require clear distance vision, the most commonly selected traditional lens implants are intended to allow patients to see well in the distance, sometimes even without glasses, while requiring patients to wear glasses to read and see the computer.

However, new advanced technology options such as premium intraocular lenses (Restor, Tecnis, and Crystalens) now exist, which can eliminate or reduce one's dependence on glasses altogether. These premium IOLs, which can be multifocal or accommodating, can allow patients to see well at more than one distance (far, intermediate, near), without glasses or contacts. Patients with significant astigmatism may require multiple procedures or a toric (astigmatism-correcting) IOL to reduce their need for eyeglasses.

Although laser vision correction surgery is historically associated with corneal-based procedures such as LASIK or PRK, today, it also encompasses intraocular procedures such as cataract and clear lens-replacement with premium IOLs, as well as phakic IOLs and implantable contact lenses (Verisyse and Visian IOLs).

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