Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the United States. Over 1.5 million people undergo the procedure every year, and approximately 90% of patients report improved vision afterwards. Surgery is performed on an outpatient basis using local anesthetic and generally takes 15 minutes or less to complete. As with any surgical procedure, complications can occur during or after surgery, but in most cases, both vision and quality of life are improved.
Cataract surgery involves removal of the cloudy lens and replacement with a permanent, artificial lens known as an intraocular lens. There are three types of cataract surgery:
Phacoemulsification is the most common form of cataract surgery. The surgeon makes a small incision (approximately one tenth of an inch!) on the side of the cornea and inserts a small probe that uses ultrasound waves to break up the lens. Once the diseased lens has been removed, the surgeon implants an intraocular lens.
Extracapsular extraction is generally used to remove larger, more advanced cataracts and is rarely done with today’s modern technology. In this procedure, a longer incision is made on the side of the cornea, allowing the surgeon to extract the cloudy core of the lens in one piece and implant an intraocular lens.
Following surgery, most patients will notice improved vision within a few days. Generally, full recovery can be expected within eight weeks as compared to a much quicker expected visual recovery with modern cataract surgery.
Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery is a technique available that uses a special laser called a femtosecond laser. This technique automates some of the steps of cataract surgery, using a laser to make incisions, create a round opening in the lens capsule and divide the lens into segments to prepare the cataract for removal. It can replace some of the blades and needles of standard surgery and can correct small amounts of astigmatism using small partial-thickness incisions in the cornea. Ask your surgeon about this technique if you are interested in learning more about the laser-assisted approach to cataract surgery.
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