Cataract Surgery

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What is a cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the eye's naturally clear lens. The lens focuses light rays on the retina the layer of light sensing cells lining the back of the eye to produce a sharp image of what we see. When the lens becomes cloudy, light rays cannot pass through it easily, and vision is blurred.

Normal Lens

Light rays entering an eye with a normal lens.


Cloudy Lens

Light rays entering an eye with a cataract. When a cataract forms, the lens of your eye is cloudy. Light cannot pass through it easily, and your vision is blurred.

What causes cataracts?

Cataract development is a normal process of aging, but cataracts also develop from eye injuries, certain diseases, or medications. Your genes may also playa role in cataract development.

How can a cataract be treated?

A cataract may not need to be treated if your vision is only slightly blurry. Simply changing your eyeglass prescription may help to improve your vision for a while.

There are no medications, eyedrops, exercises, or glasses that will cause cataracts to disappear or to prevent them from forming. Surgery is the only way to remove a cataract. When you are no longer able to see well enough to do the things you like to do, cataract surgery should be considered.

In cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is removed from the eye through a surgical incision. In most cases, the natural lens is replaced with a permanent intraocular lens (IOL) implant.

What can I expect if I decide to have cataract surgery?

To determine if your cataract should be removed, your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) will perform a thorough eye examination. Before surgery, your eye will be measured to determine the proper power of the intraocular lens that will be placed in your eye. Ask your ophthalmologist if you should continue taking your usual medications before surgery. You should make arrangements to have someone drive you home after surgery.

Surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis, either in a hospital or an ambulatory surgery center. You may be asked to skip breakfast, depending on the time of your surgery.

When you arrive for surgery, you will be given eyedrops and perhaps a mild sedative to help make you comfortable. A local anesthetic will numb your eye. The skin around your eye will be thoroughly cleansed, and sterile coverings will be placed around your head. You may see light and movement, but you will not be able to see the surgery while it is happening.

Under an operating microscope, a small incision is made in the eye. In most cataract surgeries, tiny surgical instruments are used to break apart and remove the cloudy lens from the eye. The back membrane of the lens (called the posterior capsule) is left in place.

During cataract surgery, tiny instruments are used to break apart and remove the cloudy lens from the eye.

During cataract surgery, tiny instruments are used to break apart and remove the cloudy lens from the eye.

A plastic, acrylic, or silicone intraocular lens is implanted in the eye to replace the natural lens that was removed.

An intraocular lens (IOL) implant.

An intraocular lens (lOL) implant.

In cataracts surgery, the intraocular lens replaces the eye's natural lens.

In cataract surgery, the intraocular lens replaces the eye's natural lens.

After surgery is completed, your doctor may place a shield over your eye. After a short stay in the outpatient recovery area, you will be ready to go home.

You will need to:

  • use the eyedrops as prescribed;
  • be careful not to rub or press on your eye;
  • avoid strenuous activities until your ophthalmologist tells you to resume them;
  • ask your doctor when you can begin driving;
  • wear eyeglasses or an eye shield, as advised by your doctor.

You can continue most normal daily activities. Over-the-counter pain medicine may be used, if necessary.

Is a laser used during cataract surgery?

Laser surgery is not used in cataract removal surgery. However, the lens capsule (the part of the eye that holds the lens in place) sometimes becomes cloudy several months or years after the original cataract operation. If the cloudy capsule blurs your vision, your ophthalmologist can perform a second surgery using a laser. During the second procedure, called a posterior capsulotomy, a laser is used to make an opening in the cloudy lens capsule, restoring normal vision.

Posterior capsulotomy: A laser is used to make an opening the cloudy lens capsule.

Posterior capsulotomy: A laser is used to make an opening in the cloudy lens capsule.

Will cataract surgery improve my vision?

The success rate of cataract surgery is excellent. Improved vision is achieved in the majority of patients if other vision limiting problems are not present.

Complications after cataract surgery

Though they rarely occur, serious complications of cataract surgery are:

  • infection;
  • bleeding;
  • swelling; and
  • detachment of the retina.

Call your ophthalmologist immediately if you have any of the following symptoms after surgery:

  • pain not relieved by nonprescription pain medication;
  • loss of vision;
  • nausea, vomiting, or excessive coughing;
  • injury to the eye.

Even if cataract surgery is successful, some patients may not see as well as they would like to. Other eye problems such as macular degeneration (aging of the retina), glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy may limit vision after surgery. Even with these problems, cataract surgery may still be worthwhile. Talk to your ophthalmologist to learn more about cataract surgery and its risks and benefits.


American Academy of Opthalmology

American Academy of Opthalmology
P.O. Box 7424
San Francisco, CA 94120-7424

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