Cataract surgery is usually only performed when there is severe vision impairment or if another eye condition, such as glaucoma, co-exists. The surgery is low-risk with a high success rate. If both eyes require surgery, they are performed as separate surgeries, typically four to eight weeks apart.
Cataract surgery takes about one hour to perform and causes minimal pain. The surgery is performed on children under general anesthesia. Adults usually stay awake and are given local anesthesia, but they can choose to go under general anesthesia if they prefer. There are two types of cataract surgery: phacoemulsification and extracapsular surgery.
Phacoemulsification is the most common type of cataract surgery. During phacoemulsification surgery, an ultrasonic device is inserted in the eye through a small incision. The device emits ultrasonic waves that break up the lens. The lens is then suctioned out of the eye. The lens is typically replaced with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL).
During extracapsular surgery, a small incision is made in the eye (a larger incision than is made with phacoemulsification surgery) and the core of the lens is removed in one piece. Remaining pieces of the lens are suctioned out. The natural lens is usually replaced with an IOL.
Some people cannot have an artificial IOL lens placed in their eye, due to certain eye conditions. If an artificial lens is not placed in the eye, the patient will have to wear contact lenses to help with vision.
The possible risks associated with cataract surgery are bleeding, infection, nearsightedness or an increased chance of retinal detachment.