What is Phacoemulsification?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2020
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Phacoemulsification is a ophthalmological procedure in which the contents of the lens of the eye are removed and replaced with an artificial intraocular lens. Phaco, as it is also known, is used to treat cataracts and is performed by an experienced ocular surgeon. This procedure was introduced in the 1960s by a physician who was allegedly inspired by a tool in the dentist's office, and it has become the surgery of choice to treat cataracts.

In the phacoemulsification procedure, a small incision is made in the lens capsule and an ultrasound probe is inserted. The probe is used to break up the material inside the lens so that it can be suctioned out. Once the capsule has been emptied, a folded artificial lens is inserted through the same hole and then gently unfolded and positioned. The procedure is minimally invasive when compared to other cataract procedures, and is performed on an outpatient basis.

Patients are usually awake for phacoemulsification, with the eye and sometimes part of the face being anesthetized. The doctor may opt for more extensive anesthesia if the patient is very young or agitated and there are concerns about safety. After the procedure, patients may feel a bit woozy, depending on the anesthetics used, and they may notice dark spots and other vision irregularities for the first few days.


For approximately two weeks after phacoemulsification, it is important to protect the eye from trauma because it is still healing. An eye shield may be worn at night, and people are usually advised to wear glasses or eye protection during the day. Once the eye is healed, the patient should have relatively normal vision. The surgeon will usually request a follow-up to confirm that the eye is healing well and that there are no vision problems.

Like any surgery, phacoemulsification cataract surgery can carry risks. Patients may have adverse reactions to anesthetics, could experience damage to the eye, or may develop infections. The risks are reduced by working with a skilled and experienced surgeon who observes the latest procedures and maintains a sterile operating environment. Patients should always ask their doctors about their success rates, and should confirm that they are working with board certified surgeons who are in good standing. It can also be advisable to seek out recommendations and advice and to meet with at least two surgeons to hear about different approaches and perspectives to surgery.



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