Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgery in the United States, with well over two million Americans having the procedure each year. Once a cataract has formed, the most effective way to restore vision is to remove the cloudy cataract and replace it with a plastic lens implant (Intraocular lens or IOL). With recent advances in cataract surgery equipment and techniques, vision can be restored safer and faster, allowing patients to resume normal activities within hours after surgery (some activities may be limited during healing). Using these state-of-the art techniques, cataract surgery has a success rate greater than 98%.
Previously, cataract surgery was performed under general anesthesia requiring patients to stay in the hospital. Later advances used a local anesthesia (retrobulbar or peribulbar blocks) where a needle stick is made, penetrating to just behind the eyeball where the anesthetic is injected. Although this procedure allows patients to return home the same day and is safer than using general anesthesia, it is not entirely free of risk.
Today, with recent advances in cataract surgery anesthesia, topical anesthetics are used. A patient may be given a sedative to help them relax and to keep them comfortable during the procedure. Next, the eye is anesthetized with eye drops instead of a needle injection.
Traditional Cataract Surgery vs. Laser Assisted Cataract Surgery
No-Stitch, Self-Sealing Incision Surgery
Ultrasound technology (phacoemulsification or “phaco”) is often used to remove a cataract. With “phaco” the probe is inserted through a small 1/8” opening (instead of a relatively wide incision) created with a specific self-sealing technique. The new techniques place the incision into the cornea (clear part of the eye that covers the iris or colored portion of the eye) just next to the sclera (white part of the eye).
In most cases the topical anesthesia, no-stitch, no-patch techniques are preferred, however some patients, because of their eye structure, health or other factors, may not be good candidates for the new techniques. In these cases, patients can have traditional surgery and expect to do well. A complete eye examination and consultation with the doctor is necessary to determine each individual’s specific needs and potential for improved vision.