The eye is like a camera and uses a lens to focus. The natural or “crystalline” lens of the eye is located behind the iris. To function properly it needs to be clear and free of opacity. When the lens is not clear we call this a cataract. The most common cause is that of aging. Injuries may also cause cataracts. Diabetics are prone to cataract formation due to abnormal sugar metabolism. Cataracts may also be genetic and occur in families.
Modern cataract surgery is performed with a technique called phacoemulsification in which the lens, which is now a cataract, is broken into small pieces with ultrasonic energy, then removed by a vacuum. The natural lens is coated with a capsule membrane that resembles cell0phane. This capsule membrane is left intact while removing the lens inside.
A new lens made of silicone or acrylic plastic is placed within this capsule membrane restoring vision. The new lens is foldable and is able to go through the small incisions that we use to remove the cataract. The incisions are often small enough that sutures are not needed to close them. The capsule membrane may get cloudy over time, and then is removed later with a specialty laser we call a YAG.
Cataract surgery is performed at an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) which are also known as outpatient or same day surgical centers. They are state and federal licensed. An anesthesiologist will monitor the patient during surgery and give sedation to ensure a comfortable experience. The operation lasts about 30 minutes, but the patient will be at the center about 2 hours including pre and postoperative care. Most patients have very little pain or discomfort during or after surgery.
After surgery patients take eye drops for 3-4 weeks, wear a protective shield for sleeping and are restricted from heavy lifting for several weeks. Most may return to work in a few days with some restrictions.