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What is Cataract Removal?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cataracts are one of the leading causes of vision impairment in elderly people, though they can also affect a child or adult who suffers from a congenital disorder or severe eye injury. When one or both eyes become clouded, it can be difficult or even impossible to manage simple daily tasks. Medications may ease some symptoms, but cataract removal surgery is the only proven method of correcting the problem. The procedure is quick, nearly pain-free, and generally very effective. An individual who elects to undergo surgery can expect a significant improvement in sight and quality of life.

When a patient's primary care physician or eye doctor thinks that surgery would be a good choice, he or she can arrange a consultation with a surgical specialist to discuss the procedure. The patient is told what to expect and how the surgery is performed. In most cases, the decision to undergo cataract removal is left up to the patient after he or she is fully informed of the details.

Most procedures are performed in outpatient surgical clinics or general hospitals, and take less than one hour to complete. In a sterile operating room, a patient may be instructed to lie down on a table or sit in an inclined chair. A local anesthetic is injected into the eye socket, allowing the patient to remain awake during surgery. With the eye numbed, the surgeon makes a tiny incision at the center of the cataract.

In most cases, a surgeon can dislodge the affected lens using a specialized type of ultrasound machine in a procedure called phacoemulsification. Sound waves soften the lens and break it into pieces that can be removed with a suction device. If phacoemulsification is not possible due to the size or depth of a cataract, the surgeon can use a scalpel to excise it. Once the lens is removed, an artificial replacement called an intraocular lens is fitted into its place. The surgeon then uses fine stitches or chemical glues to secure the intraocular lens.

Following cataract removal, a patient is usually brought to a postoperative room to recover from the anesthesia. The eye is typically sensitive for several hours, so an individual may be instructed to wear a patch or sunglasses when leaving the surgical center. Most surgeons request that patients return for follow-up visits within 48 hours of cataract removal surgery to make sure the procedures were successful.

It usually takes about two months to fully recover from cataract removal, during which time eye drops and oral antibiotics are generally needed to prevent infection. Regular checkups with an eye doctor ensure that recovery is progressing as expected. The surgery may not result in perfect vision, but most patients do experience significant improvements in sight and quality of life.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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