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What is Subcapsular Cataract Surgery?

By H. Colledge
Updated May 17, 2024
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Inside the eye, a cataract is a clouded area of the lens that interferes with the passage of light and can cause sight loss. Subcapsular cataracts form on the rear part of the capsule that encloses the lens, and may develop more quickly than other types of cataract. If sight loss begins to interfere with everyday activities, subcapsular cataract surgery may be necessary. In the most common type of operation, known as phacoemulsification, an opening is made in the lens capsule and ultrasound waves are directed at the clouded lens to shatter it. Next, suction is used to remove the lens fragments and an artificial lens may be inserted.

The phacoemulsification method of subcapsular cataract surgery takes under half an hour and does not require a general anesthetic, although painkilling drops are placed in the eye. A tiny cut is made in the eye's surface and a special needle is inserted, which emits ultrasound waves to break up the lens. Pieces of the shattered lens are then sucked up through the same needle.

If a replacement lens is to be used, it is placed inside the rear part of the capsule. Some patients have other eye conditions, which mean they are not able to have artificial lenses implanted. Patients without artificial lenses normally have spectacles or contact lenses fitted to correct their sight.

After subcapsular cataract surgery, patients are given eye drops to use for a number of weeks. No stitches are required following the procedure, and it is not necessary to wear an eye patch. It is normal to experience some discomfort, but a doctor should be consulted if there is a lot of pain or loss of vision, as this is not typical and could be a sign that complications have occurred. Possible complications include eye infections and bleeding, and subcapsular cataract surgery also carries a risk of detachment of the retina.

In some cases, it is not possible to shatter the lens and an alternative type of eye surgery is used, known as extracapsular cataract surgery. Here, the eye surgeon makes a larger cut in the eye to remove the whole of the lens. A replacement lens can be inserted if necessary. As the incision is wider, stitches are needed to close it, and an injection of anesthetic may be required at the start of the procedure. Recovery is longer after this type of subcapsular cataract surgery and it may be necessary to wear an eye patch following the operation.

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Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On Jul 30, 2013

I wish insurance companies covered all lenses used for subcapsular cataract removal surgery. The multi-focal lenses are the best, but insurance doesn't cover it all, so I had to cover most of the lens cost myself.

By literally45 — On Jul 30, 2013

@MikeMason-- This is a very common procedure and most opthamologists do at least one of these per week. Of course, some doctors are more experienced than others, and it's always a good idea to select a doctor who has experience and good feedback from patients.

There are risks with every surgery, so subcapsular cataract surgery, as easy as it is, has potential risks as well. There is a possibility that your vision might not come out as well as you'd like.

Also, keep in mind that it takes a while (up to two months) for your vision to improve post cataract surgery. So it's normal to have bad vision, as well as halos and floaters until your eyes adjust to the new lens. You will need some help from family and friends until your vision is back to normal.

For the most part, this is a easy surgery and I'm sure you will be fine.

By stoneMason — On Jul 29, 2013

Is subcapsular cataract surgery a routine procedure for most eye doctors?

I'm in the process of finding a doctor because I moved soon after I was diagnosed with subcapsular cataract surgery. My eyesight isn't too bad but I'm going to have to have surgery, so I might as well get it over with. I just want to make sure that I will be in good hands, I don't know if this cataract surgery can have complications.

Also, I'm sure I will have to avoid driving for a while after the procedure. How long does it usually take to get back to a regular routine after subcapsular cataract surgery?

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