Types of Cataracts Surgery
Cataracts are a common eye condition which is characterised by cloudy patches that grow on the lens of the eye, leading to visual impairment. Cataracts usually develop with age, but can also be caused by certain medications, health conditions and injuries.
The only way to remove cataracts is with surgery. In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of cataract surgery that are available, providing an overview of the main procedures. We’ll also cover the recovery process following surgery, and touch on non-surgical cataract treatments.
What is a cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is performed to repair the visual impairment caused by the condition and restore your vision. It involves replacing the cloudy lens inside your eye with an artificial one.
Signs that you may require cataract surgery include cloudy vision, changes to how you see colours, glare while you are driving, difficulty seeing at night, double vision and other eye symptoms that make your everyday life harder.
Cataract surgery is a commonly performed surgery with a high success rate.
How effective is cataract surgery?
Over half of people over the age of 80 will have cataracts or have had cataract surgery.
Some 90% of people have successful surgery, enjoying significant improvement in vision and quality of life. The rate of vision-threatening complications from cataract surgery is relatively low.
Types of cataract surgery
There are three major cataract surgeries available. Your ophthalmologist (eye specialist) can advise on which surgery will be best, based on your eye health history, your symptoms and the severity of your condition.
Phacoemulsification cataract surgery
Phacoemulsification surgery is also known as ‘phaco’. It uses ultrasound energy to restore vision in people with cataracts.
This common modern-day technique emulsifies the nucleus of the lens (the small transparent disc within the eye that changes focal distance). After breaking the lens into tiny pieces with ultrasonic waves, the irrigation stage of the procedure involves the flushing of the pieces with sterile fluids, before they are removed with a vacuum. The final part of the procedure implants an intraocular lens — usually a silicone or acrylic replacement.
This type of cataract surgery offers the advantage of a relatively small incision, with stitches not typically being required.
Extracapsular cataract surgery
This cataract procedure is used for cases of highly advanced cataracts, when phacoemulsification will not work due to the high density of the cataract, or for various other reasons.
Instead of fragmenting the cataract, extracapsular cataract surgery takes out the cataract in a single piece. The procedure removes the whole lens, leaving the capsule (the thin, transparent membrane around the lens) partially attached to make room for the implantation of the intraocular lens. Stitches may be needed for this procedure.
Extracapsular cataract surgery can be combined with phacoemulsification, with the lens being fragmented before being vacuumed out. This type of extracapsular cataract surgery may not require stitches.
Femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery
This advanced procedure uses laser technology to make precise incisions in order to break down the cataract, negating the use of traditional surgical tools such as scalpels and blades. The femtosecond laser offers high accuracy in making incisions at a point within the lens and cornea.
As with more traditional cataract surgery, the procedure involves an incision in the cornea, before the laser makes another incision in the bag of the capsule (capsulotomy) surrounding the lens, offering access to the cataract. The laser replaces the needle that is used for this part of a traditional procedure, offering more precision.
Laser technology also replaces the ultrasonic device that is used in traditional procedures to fragment the cataract. Once the cataract has been broken down by the laser, it can be removed by the surgeon.
Cataract surgery recovery
Following the procedure, which typically takes around 30 minutes, you’ll spend around 30 minutes in a recovery room before you can go home.
Your consultant ophthalmologist will provide instructions on how to protect your eye during the cataract surgery recovery period. You’ll use eye drops to help the healing process, and may be given special glasses to wear. Most people recover quickly after cataract surgery, feeling back to normal after a few days.
Here are some recovery dos and don’ts:
- Do use eye drops as instructed
- Do use glasses or an eye shield when your doctor instructs you to
- Do rest properly after your surgery
- Do take your pain medication as prescribed
- Don’t swim for four to six weeks
- Don’t touch your eyes
- Don’t exercise strenuously
- Don’t drive home from your cataract surgery, as your vision will still be cloudy
- Don’t allow water or soap to come into contact with your eyes
- Don’t wear make-up, face cream or lotion for one or two weeks
Further cataract surgery aftercare advice will be provided by your consultant.
Non-surgical treatment for cataracts
If you have cataracts, it is your decision whether or not to have cataract surgery.
There is no non-surgical treatment for cataracts — such as eye drops or medicines — that has been proven to stop cataracts from getting worse or that can help improve them.
There are some lifestyle changes you can make that may help reduce your risk of developing a cataract:
- New eyewear – vision can be improved during the early stages of cataracts by changing your eyewear prescription. You may also be recommended new glasses, magnifying lenses, lenses with coatings and tints or anti-glare sunglasses. You should have regular eye exams to ensure that any early signs of cataract development are identified by your ophthalmologist.
- Protecting your eyes from hazards – by avoiding polluted air, wearing sunglasses to protect yourself from UV rays, and wearing safety glasses to shield yourself from foreign objects that may enter your eyes in certain environments.
- A healthy lifestyle – stopping smoking, limiting alcohol intake and eating a healthy diet can help to reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
There aren’t currently non-surgical treatments that are approved for cataract removal, although research into potential solutions is ongoing. Alternative treatments that claim to reverse cataracts are not approved by the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK or Federal Drugs Administration (FDA) in the US.
Get in touch
If you are experiencing cataract symptoms, get in touch with our team of expert ophthalmologists at The McIndoe Centre to discuss treatment and surgery options. We offer exceptional care and advice if you need it.
You and your ophthalmologist can decide on the best way forward based on your symptoms, how they affect your daily activities, and any other eye conditions you may have. Book a consultation at The McIndoe Centre today to find out more.