If you’re due to head in for cataract surgery in the near future this guide on what to expect both pre- and post-cataract surgery should help!
Any health issue is scary, even one as common as cataracts… So common, in fact, that half of us will have cataracts by age 75.
If you’re like most people, part of your stress comes from a fear of the unknown. So, we’re here to solve that problem and give you a better idea of what to expect pre-and post-cataract surgery.
What to Expect Before Cataract Surgery
Chances are that your eye doctor spotted your cataracts during a regular eye exam, or perhaps you noticed the cloudy vision on your own. Either way, your doctor will do a more comprehensive eye exam when your surgery is on the books.
They’ll look for abnormalities or health issues that could complicate your surgery. On top of looking for issues, your eye doctor will take measurements of your eye, allowing them to choose the replacement lens for your procedure.
During surgery, your eye surgeon will replace your clouded, cataract-affected lens with an artificial lens. These new lenses are called intraocular lenses, or IOLs. There are many types of IOLs, and your doctor may discuss the options with you before surgery.
If you use glasses or contacts, you may be able to choose an IOL that corrects your nearsightedness or farsightedness. If you have astigmatism, your surgeon may also be able to correct or improve it during surgery.
What to Expect on Your Surgery Day
When it’s time to go in for surgery, you’ll go to a designated surgery center. This particular surgery is an outpatient procedure, so there’s no need to bring an overnight bag.
Before surgery begins, the medical staff will take your vitals to make sure you’re ready for the surgery. Even though you’ll be awake during the procedure, you’ll receive oral sedation so you’re comfortable and don’t have pain.
In some cases, the surgeon may offer you intravenous sedation for a stronger effect.
Finally, the staff will administer drops to dilate your pupils before they bring you to the operating room.
How Cataract Surgery Works
Cataract surgery itself only takes around ten or fifteen minutes to complete. The basic process is that your surgeon removes your cataract-affected lens and replaces it with your chosen IOL. However, there are two potential approaches they can take.
Traditional Phaco Cataract Surgery
The more traditional type of cataract surgery is called phacoemulsification, or phaco for short. It begins with your surgeon making a tiny incision in your cornea. (Don’t worry: it won’t be painful.)
Next, the surgeon moves on to a step called capsulotomy where the lens of your eye is held in place by a capsule or a bubble-like enclosure. Your surgeon will create an opening in that capsule so they can access your clouded lens.
From there, your surgeon uses a high-frequency ultrasound device to break up your affected lens. This allows them to remove the lens with gentle suction and place your new lens inside the capsule that held your natural lens.
In most cases, your new lens will be behind your iris and pupil like your natural lens was. In rare cases, though, certain conditions can require surgeons to place the lens in an area called the sulcus in front of the iris and pupil.
Finally, the surgeon closes the incision and you’re done.
Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery
In the past decade, some surgeons have started using a specific type of laser for cataract surgery. These lasers are called femtosecond lasers. You may have heard of surgeons using lasers to make the initial incision in LASIK surgery, and these are those same lasers.
In 2010, the FDA approved the first femtosecond laser for cataract surgery. Since then, several more models have been approved. The procedure is known as femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery or FLACS.
There are several ways surgeons can use lasers during FLACS. The first is to make the initial incision. These laser incisions are often more precise than manual incisions.
Surgeons can also use lasers for the capsulotomy part of the procedure. For some surgeons, the laser produces a more predictable opening size in the capsule and the opening has cleaner edges.
As you remember from above, the next step is to break down your cataract-affected lens. By using a laser first, a surgeon may be able to soften the lens. This means they can use less energy to break up and remove the lens, which could reduce inflammation.
Finally, if you have astigmatism, your surgeon can use the laser to make incisions that reshape your cornea. This reduces or gets rid of your astigmatism as it heals.
Choosing Between Phaco or Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery
There is an ongoing debate in the medical community about whether lasers improve cataract surgery.
Some surgeons say that lasers lead to more consistent and predictable results. They report better vision improvement and more frequent surgical success from their patients.
Other surgeons say that for them, laser-assisted surgery takes longer and doesn’t achieve results as well as other methods.
When it comes down to it, your cataract surgery’s success will depend more on your surgeon than the technology they use. Each surgeon has their own technology that they’re most comfortable with.
What to Expect Post-Cataract Surgery
As we mentioned above, your surgery itself will only take ten to fifteen minutes. When your surgeon is finished, they’ll take you to the recovery room.
Here, medical staff will monitor you for a brief amount of time. The surgeon may do a final evaluation before discharging you to go home. (You’ll need someone to drive you home.)
In total, most patients are at their surgical center for less than two hours.
When you leave the surgical center, you’ll receive a protective eye shield. You may have a prescription for eye drops, too.
For about a week after surgery, you’ll need to avoid putting pressure on your eye. This means no rubbing or pressing on your eye. It also means wearing your eye shield when you sleep or nap to prevent accidental pressure.
You can expect to eye redness and some blurry vision after your surgery. This can last a few days to a few weeks, depending on your natural healing process. During this time, you should also take it easy. Don’t bend over if possible, because this can increase swelling. You should also avoid strenuous exercise and heavy lifting.
It’s also important to protect your eyes from the sun during your recovery period. Avoid unnecessary exposure to direct sunlight, and when you do go out, wear dark post-procedure sunglasses.
This is the fun part of the post-cataract surgery period: seeing results! You may start to enjoy your new, clearer vision within a few days.
Artificial lenses don’t experience the age-related cell breakdown that natural lenses do, so you won’t get cataracts on your replacement lenses.
If you chose an IOL that corrected your previous vision limitations, you’ll also notice that your vision will improve. (In some cases, you may not need glasses or contacts at all after surgery.)
Planning for Your Cataract Surgery
The word “surgery” makes many people uncomfortable, thanks to pre-operative anxieties and fears about something going wrong. But, the reality is that cataract surgery is one of the most routine and minimally invasive surgeries in the world!
Even better, the post-cataract surgery recovery time is so short that it’s barely a blip on your radar.
The key to smooth and successful cataract surgery is finding the right surgeon and surgical hospital. To start that journey, schedule an appointment with Edgewood Surgical Hospital today.