Cataract Surgery

Cataract surgery is the process of removing the lens of the eye and, in most cases, replacing it with an artificial lens. Normally, the lens of the eye is transparent. A cataract causes the lens to become cloudy, which eventually affects your vision.

Cataract surgery is done on an outpatient basis by an ophthalmologist, which means you don't need to stay in the hospital after surgery. Cataract surgery is very common and generally a safe procedure.

Why it's done

Cataract surgery is undertaken as a treatment for cataracts, a condition known to cause blurred vision and heightened sensitivity to light.

 If the impact of a cataract is impeding your ability to carry out routine activities, your doctor might suggest cataract surgery. Additionally, if a cataract obstructs the treatment of another eye issue, such as age-related macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, the recommendation for cataract surgery may be made.

 For instance, if a cataract creates difficulties for your eye doctor in examining the back of your eye for the monitoring or treatment of other conditions, cataract surgery could be advised.

 Typically, delaying cataract surgery is unlikely to cause harm to your eye, providing you with the opportunity to carefully weigh your options. If your vision remains relatively good, the need for cataract surgery may not arise for several years.

 Consider the following questions when contemplating cataract surgery:

  • Can you see well enough to safely perform your job and drive?
  • Do you experience difficulties when reading or watching television?
  • Is it challenging to carry out daily activities such as cooking, shopping, yard work, climbing stairs, or taking medications?
  • Do vision issues impact your overall level of independence?
  • Are bright lights making it more difficult for you to see?

Risks

Complications after cataract surgery are uncommon, and most can be treated successfully.

Cataract surgery risks include:

  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Dislocation of artificial lens
  • Retinal detachment
  • Glaucoma
  • Secondary cataract
  • Loss of vision

Your risk of complications is greater if you have another eye disease or a serious medical condition. Occasionally, cataract surgery fails to improve vision because of underlying eye damage from other conditions, such as glaucoma or macular degeneration. If possible, it may be beneficial to evaluate and treat other eye problems before making the decision to have cataract surgery.

How you prepare

Food and medications

You may be asked not to eat or drink anything 12 hours before cataract surgery. Your doctor may also recommend that you temporarily stop taking any medication that may increase your risk of bleeding during the procedure. If you are taking any medication for prostate problems, let your doctor know as some of these medications may prevent cataract surgery.

Antibiotic eye drops may be given to be used one or two days before the surgery.

Other precautions

You can normally go home the same day as your surgery, but you will not be able to drive, so arrange a vehicle for home. Also arrange assistance around the home if needed, as your doctor may limit activities such as bending and lifting for about a week after surgery.

Results

Cataract surgery successfully restores vision in most people who have the procedure.

People who have had cataract surgery may develop a secondary cataract. The medical term for this common complication is known as posterior capsule opacification (PCO). This happens when the back of the lens capsule – the part of the lens that was not removed during surgery and now supports the lens implant – becomes cloudy and impairs your vision.

PCO is treated with a painless, five-minute outpatient procedure called yttrium-aluminum-garnet (YAG) laser capsulotomy. In YAG laser capsulotomy, a laser beam is used to create a small opening in the cloudy capsule to provide a clear path through which light can pass.

After the procedure, you will usually stay in the doctor's office for about an hour to make sure your eye pressure does not rise. Other complications are rare but may include increased eye pressure and retinal detachment.