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Before, During & After Cataract Surgery


Updated June 18, 2014

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Cataract Surgery: What Happens During The Procedure
When performed on an adult, the procedure to remove cataracts is typically done as an outpatient surgery. Rather than having anesthesia, the patient typically is given eye medication that numbs the eye completely and allows the physician to perform the procedure without causing pain.

Medication may be given to help the patient relax during the procedure. This helps decrease the risk factors associated with cataract surgery, as there are no anesthesia risks.

For children, cataracts are rare. When they do occur, general anesthesia is far more likely to be used than with adult patients, as it can be a very scary thing for a child to have eye surgery, even if there is no pain. For that reason, it is preferable that children not be awake for the procedure, unless they are old enough to understand what is happening, why it is happening and be able to cooperate with the surgeon.

Phacoemulsification Cataract Surgery

There are two main types of cataract surgery. The first is phacoemulsification. This procedure uses highly focused sound waves to break the cloudy lens (cataract) into tiny pieces. Breaking the lens into pieces allows the surgeon to use a very small incision, through which the pieces are then removed using gentle suction. This method may removed the entire lens, or the back of the lens may be left in place. Once the pieces are removed an artificial lens, called an Intraocular Lens or IOL, is put into place. Made of plastic, silicone or another material, the lens is very flexible (similar to a contact lens) and can be slipped into a tiny incision. Stitches are typically not necessary to close the incision.

Extracapsular Extraction Cataract Surgery

The second type of surgery is called an extracapsular cataract extraction. This procedure is less common and uses a larger incision than the phacoemulsification technique. In this technique, the cloudy portion of the lens is removed surgically, and suction is applied to remove the additional pieces. Once the old lens has been removed, an artificial lens is inserted. Once the lens is properly placed, the incision is closed. The size of the incision used in this procedure typically makes stitches necessary.

The primary difference between the two procedures, from the patient’s perspective, is the size of the incision and if stitches are necessary. Both remove the cloudy lens and replace the lens with an implant. Both procedures are typically completed in less than an hour, and are most often performed on one eye rather than both. If both eyes are affected, the second procedure is typically performed after the first is done healing.

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