Cataract SurgeryA cataract is a loss of transparency, or clouding, of the normally clear lens of the eye. As we age chemical changes occur in the lens that make it less transparent. The loss of transparency may be so mild vision is hardly affected or so severe that no shapes or movements are seen, only light and dark. When the lens gets cloudy enough to obstruct vision to any significant degree, it is called a cataract. Having a cataract can be compared to looking at the world through a foggy window.
Phacoemulsification (phaco) is the surgical method most commonly used to remove cataracts in the United States. In phaco, the surgeon uses an ultrasonic needle to break up and liquefy (emulsify) the cataract so it can be removed through a very small incision. Earlier cataract surgery methods removed the lens in one piece. This required a larger incision and meant a longer healing time for patients. Breaking the lens up and removing it in sections allows surgeons to reduce the incision size significantly (from one-half inch to one-eight of an inch) and allows patients to resume normal activities quickly.
Phacoemulsification with a small handpiece allows the creation of a very small wound.
Just as a camera cannot take a clear picture without a lens, the human eye cannot see clearly without a lens. Therefore, after the natural lens is removed, a foldable intraocular lens (IOL) implant is placed permanently inside the eye to help focus light onto the retina, or the "film" of the eye, to allow a much clearer image than without a lens implant. Unlike contact lenses, which must be removed, cleaned, and reinserted, the IOL remains in the eye after surgery. IOL implants have been used for almost 30 years and are very safe and effective. Among the most worrisome complications following cataract surgery are infection (endophthalmitis) and retinal detachment. Fortunately, these complications are rare. Vision returns quickly following cataract surgery and one can resume normal activities within a short period of time.
An intraocular lens takes the place of the natural lens that has to be removed during cataract surgery.
Cataract and IOL implant surgery is one of the most successful operations performed on the human body. Three million people have the surgery every year and 95% percent of them recover quickly and enjoy many years of good vision.