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Cataract surgery is a common, effective, and generally very safe treatment for cataracts. A cataract occurs when part of the eye is damaged or changed, usually because of age, genetics, or trauma, causing the lens of the eye to become cloudy. A normal cataract surgery procedure takes around an hour and is performed on an outpatient basis, meaning the patient can leave the hospital after it’s over. The surgery removes the damaged lens and replaces it with an artificial one, often greatly improving the patient’s vision.
Cataracts are a fairly common condition. People with cataracts may experience several vision problems, including near-sightedness, difficulty making out people’s expressions, yellowing of vision, loss of vibrancy in colors, double vision, light sensitivity, and declining night vision. If these problems are affecting a person’s ability to go about their daily activities or live a safe and independent lifestyle, a doctor might recommend cataract surgery. It may also be recommended if there is a more serious eye issue, such as macular degeneration, that can’t be contended with until the cataract is taken care of.
Before a cataract surgery procedure, the patient must undergo several tests to determine what the correct shape and size of the artificial lens should be and to make sure there are no other problems that could lead to complications. The patient may also be asked to stop taking medications that might increase risk of bleeding and to start taking antibiotics as a safeguard infection. When beginning the cataract surgery procedure, the opthamologist, or eye doctor, first dilates the eye with eyedrops and gives the patient a local anesthesia, so that the patient will become numb, but remain conscious. The surgeon will then use of one of two main surgical methods to remove the cataract and replace it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens, or IOL.
The most common cataract surgery procedure is called phacoemulsification. During this procedure, the opthamologist makes a very small incision in the eye and inserts a fine probe. The probe emits ultrasonic waves to break up the cloudy lens so it can be removed, leaving only the back of the lens in place. The IOL is then seated in front of the back lens. The incision is so tiny that it often does not require stitches and very rarely leads to bleeding. When this method can’t be performed a doctor might use another cataract surgery procedure called extracapsular cataract extraction, or ECCE, which requires a larger incision around 10-12mm long (0.39-0.47in). In this operation, the bad lens is cut out, the IOL is placed in front of the back lens, and stitches are used to close the wound.
Patients can typically leave after the surgery, but they might be groggy. Eyesight will be impaired for a few days, so it is a good idea for patients to get someone to drive for them and to take a few days off work. Cataract surgery rarely has serious complications, but patients may develop a secondary cataract called posterior capsule opacification (PCO) in the back lens. This is an easily treatable condition done in a small outpatient procedure. Other risks include swelling, bleeding, infection, retinal detachment, and glaucoma.