Cataract Surgery: Procedure, Risks, and Recovery

Cataract surgery is done to restore vision through replacing the clouded lens in your eye with a clear artificial lens. This procedure is painless and usually only takes about 15 minutes. Cataract surgery is generally an outpatient procedure and does not need an overnight hospital stay.

Despite what most people perceive of cataract surgery as being scary, it is actually one of the safest and most effective surgical procedures to restore vision.

How is Cataract Surgery Performed?

During the surgery, the cloudy lens in your eye will be extracted and replaced with a clear artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). The new lens will help restore a clear vision without the opacity of a cloudy lens.

During cataract surgery, the surgeons make sure that the patient is relaxed and completely pain-free. A slight sensation of pressure is at most the only discomfort a patient may experience which is far from painful.

Cataract surgery is done through these steps:

  1. A small incision is done alongside the cornea.
  2. A laser or a high-frequency ultrasound device carefully breaks up the cloudy lens into tiny fragments.
  3. These fragments are removed through suction.
  4. After having all fragments extracted, the artificial lens is then inserted behind the pupil and the iris where the natural lens were previously located
  5. The incision heals even without stitches.
  6. A protective shield is set over the eye to aid in the early stages of recovery.

If surgery is needed for both eyes, 1-3 weeks intervals will be needed to allow ample time for each eye to heal before another surgery.

Cataract Surgery

Options for Cataract Surgery

Phacoemulsification is the most traditional type of cataract surgery. This procedure used high-frequency ultrasound to break up the lens. With the help of new technology, phaco surgery can now be done with smaller incisions that promote faster healing and lesser complications.

There are three IOL options that can be implanted on cataract surgeries:

Monofocal lenses are the most basic option for cataract surgery. After the operation, eyeglasses or reading glasses may still be required for normal vision.
Accommodating lenses and multifocal lenses are better options for patients with presbyopia. These lenses correct reading vision without compromising distance vision. Both of these IOLs provide a better range of vision after cataract surgery compared to monofocal lenses.

Extracapsular surgery is another type of cataract surgery. Alternatively to breaking up the cloudy lens into fragments, the core is removed in one piece and the rest is extracted through suction. Extracapsular surgery requires longer incision and antibiotic eye drops before the procedure which is only done in complicated cases.

Laser cataract surgery or Refractive Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery (ReLACS) is the latest option for cataract surgery. It uses a special laser to break up the opaque lens which has lesser complications and better visual outcomes.

Laser surgery is commonly more expensive than traditional phaco cataract surgery since it utilizes newer technology. Throughout your cataract surgery consultation, your surgeon will help you determine which procedure and treatment options are best for your specific needs.

Cataract Surgery

Preparing for Cataract Surgery

A comprehensive eye exam will be done prior to scheduling a cataract surgery to map out any risks or complications that may prevent you from having the surgery.

Refraction tests to determine nearsightedness, astigmatism, or farsightedness along with additional measurements to determine the shape of your eyes will also be required. These tests will help determine the best type of intraocular lenses to be implanted during the surgery.

Before the surgery, your doctor will advise everything you need to know about the surgery. You will be briefed on what to expect before, during, and after the procedure to help you in making an informed decision about proceeding with the operation.

You will also have to undergo a medical history checking to trace previous and current medications, supplements, and medical conditions that can interfere with the surgery. Anything that may increase the risk of complications of your surgery shall be discontinued temporarily.

Discuss with your doctor any concerns or questions you may have about your cataract surgery before signing the “informed consent” documents that authorize the surgery.

Cataract Surgery

Recovery After Cataract Surgery

You may have to spend at least 90 minutes or longer in the surgical center for preparation, post-operative evaluation, and recover instructions. However, the cataract surgery itself with no complications only takes about 15 minutes.

You may be required to have a companion to drive you home for a safer ride after surgery. A special post-operative sunglasses may be prescribed to protect your eyes from sunlight and other harsh lit environments as your eye recovers.

Medicated eye drops will also be prescribed for a few weeks along with a protective eye shield to be worn while sleeping for about a week. As your eye recovers, you may notice some eye redness and blurred vision on the first few days that may last up to a few weeks after surgery.

You need to avoid the following during the first few weeks of your recovery:

  • Exposing your eye to water as this can cause infection. You will need to shower with your eyes closed and avoid swimming or sitting in hot tubs for about least two weeks.
  • Lifting heavy weights or any strenuous activities that can stress the eye
  • Any exposure of the healing eye to dust, grime, or other infection-causing contaminants.

Depending on your specific needs, your cataract surgeon may prescribe additional instructions for optimal healing.

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