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What is cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is the surgical removal of the lens of your eye when it has developed a cataract. Cataract surgery restores vision when cataracts cause vision loss.

A cataract is a clouding or loss of transparency in the lens of your eye. Cataracts interfere with vision and usually develop as a result of normal aging. In most cases, the diseased lens is replaced with an artificial lens implant called an intraocular lens (IOL). The IOL becomes a permanent part of your eye.

Cataract surgery is a common surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having cataract surgery.

Types of cataract surgery

The types of cataract surgery procedures include:

  • Phacoemulsification, also known as phaco, is short or small incision cataract surgery. In this procedure, your surgeon makes a small incision in the side of your cornea, the clear dome that covers the front of your eye. A tiny ultrasound probe is inserted through the incision. The ultrasound probe softens and breaks up your lens. Your doctor removes the lens with suction and replaces it with an IOL.

  • Extracapsular surgery requires a slightly longer incision in the side of your cornea. Your surgeon removes your entire lens in one piece through this incision. The IOL is inserted through this incision.

Types of intraocular lens (IOL) implants

The types of intraocular lens implants include:

  • Accommodative lens moves forward and backward in response to your eye muscles. It mimics the movement of your natural lens. This provides excellent near, intermediate and distance vision. An accommodative lens may reduce or eliminate the need for glasses.

  • Monofocal lens was the first lens developed for cataract surgery. It is considered the standard lens for cataract surgery. A monofocal lens is a single-focus lens. This means it can be set for near, intermediate or distance vision. Most people choose to set their monofocal lens for clear distance vision and use reading glasses for near vision.

  • Multifocal lens is designed to provide near, intermediate and distance vision in one implant. It accomplishes this through a series of rings set for each vision range. Think of it as a bull’s-eye target with each ring representing a different vision range. Your brain learns which ring to use to focus images. A multifocal lens also reduces or eliminates the need for glasses.

  • Toric lens is a type of monofocal lens that also corrects for astigmatism. Astigmatism is caused by abnormal curvature of the cornea. It can cause two focal points to fall in two different locations, making objects both up close and at a distance appear blurry. As with other monofocal lenses, you may need reading glasses to focus your near vision.

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform one or more other procedures in addition to cataract surgery. These include:

  • LASIK, which stands for laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis. It is a minor but technical surgical procedure used to correct certain types of blurry vision (called refractive errors) including farsightedness, nearsightedness and astigmatism. Your doctor uses a laser to remove very thin layers of your cornea to change its shape and produce clearer vision.

  • Limbal relaxing incisions are a series of small incisions that help correct astigmatism. This procedure allows your cornea to take on a more round and symmetrical shape.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: May 6, 2013

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Medical References

  1. Cataract Surgery. American Academy of Ophthalmology. http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/cataract-surgery.cfm.
  2. Cataract Surgery. Eye Surgery Education Council. http://www.eyesurgeryeducation.com/surgery-options-cataract-about.php.
  3. Cataracts. BetterMedicine. http://www.bettermedicine.com/article/cataracts-1.
  4. Facts About Cataracts. National Eye Institute. http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts.asp.
  5. Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf.
  6. Refractive Errors. BetterMedicine. http://www.bettermedicine.com/article/refractive-errors.

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