What Is Cataract Surgery?

By Richard Asa @YourCareE
December 08, 2023

The only way to correct a cataract, cataract surgery is common and one of the safest and most effective types of eye surgery. Here's what you should know.

When your vision becomes very cloudy you might have cataracts, and it might be time for surgery.

What is a cataract?

Having a cataract is like trying to look at objects through a dense fog. The lenses in your eye has become cloudy. You need a clear lens to focus light that comes into your eye and hits the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of your eye. Once it reaches the retina, light is changed into nerve signals that are sent to your brain.

By the time they reach age 80, more than half of Americans will have a cataract. In the U.S., more than 3.5 million cataract surgeries occur each year.


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The lens is made up of mostly water and protein. As you age, the protein, which is arranged in a precise way, begins to clump and clouds a small portion of the lens. Over time, your vision grows cloudier.

A cataract is detected through a visual acuity test, an eye exam in which your pupils are dilated, and tonometry, a procedure that uses an instrument to measure the pressure inside your eye.

Surgery is the only way to correct a cataract. Cataract surgery is very common. It's one of the safest and most effective types of surgery. In 90 percent of cases, patients have better vision afterwards, according to the National Eye Institute.

What is cataract surgery?

The surgery is an outpatient procedure that normally takes less than an hour.

If you and your doctor agree on cataract surgery, he or she will measure the curve of your cornea and the size and shape of your eye, to choose the right type of intraocular lens (IOL), a clear artificial lens that replaces your natural crystalline lens.

Once your eye has been numbed (you remain awake throughout the procedure), your surgery makes a small incision in the side of your cornea, then inserts a tiny probe. The probe emits ultrasound waves that soften and break up the lens into little pieces so it can be suctioned out. That process is called phacoemulsification.

After your surgeon removes the natural lens, he or she generally replaces it with an IOL through the incision. The artificial lens works like your natural lens, focusing light onto the back of your eye. The incision is so small, sutures aren’t needed and it’s self-healing.

Different types of lenses can be used, but the most common is a monofocal lens, which has the same power in all areas. Newer monofocal lenses can give patients good distance and near vision while eliminating the need for glasses.

Astigmatic, or toric, lenses can correct astigmatism.

Multifocal lenses are like bifocals. Different areas of the lens have different powers, which allow individuals to see clearly at far, intermediate, and near distances. The lenses aren’t for everyone, however. They can cause more problems with night vision and glare than monofocal IOL lenses, according to the American Optometric Association.

What to expect after cataract surgery

You go home soon after the surgery with a prescription for an eye drop medication to prevent infection. Your eye should heal within eight weeks.

You will have several follow-up visits with your doctor, including the next day, within a week, and then in another two to three weeks.

Once your eyes heal, you’ll see an optometrist for glasses or contact lenses for the best vision. Most people wear glasses after cataract surgery, at least for some activities.




December 08, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN