how long does cataract surgery take melbourne

How Long Does Cataract Surgery Take? What To Expect During Procedure

When it comes to eye care and surgical operations, cataract surgery can be a daunting prospect. While the image of lying on an operating table under glaring bright lights, watching a scalpel coming towards your eye makes the whole procedure sound much worse than it actually is, most people would not want to spend any more time in an operating theatre than they absolutely have to. If you’re curious about how long does cataract surgery take, read on for an in-depth answer to this common question about cataract surgery.  


How Long Does Cataract Surgery Take?

In general, uncomplicated cataract surgery operations can be as fast as 10 to 15 minutes, while procedures that are more involved can take in excess of half an hour. In studies investigating factors that affect cataract surgery operating times, researchers noted several factors that typically come into play. 


Type of anaesthesia

Cataract surgery does not usually involve general anaesthesia unless there is a reason the patient cannot comply with instructions during the surgery, such as mental impairment. Instead, the ophthalmologist will use either a local anaesthetic injected around the eyeball or a topical anaesthetic eye drop to numb the eye before the procedure. Cataract operations that involve a topical anaesthetic result in a much shorter operating time compared to those using a local anaesthetic injection. 


The expertise of the surgeon

factors how long does cataract surgery take melbourneUnsurprisingly, the skill and experience of the operating eye surgeon will greatly influence the efficiency of the cataract surgery procedure. In a study recording the operating time of a few different grades of surgeons, it was observed that consultants (a highly experienced cataract surgeon) were able to complete the operation between 9 to 29 minutes while cataract surgeries performed by a junior ophthalmologist ranged in duration from 19 to 41 minutes. It was also found that as the operation increased in complexity, consultant cataract surgeons were able to maintain a relatively quick operating time except in cases of very high complexity. 


Complications during surgery

While cataract surgery is known as a highly successful procedure in Australia and the developed world, there is always a chance of the unexpected arising, no matter how skilled or experienced the eye surgeon. Unexpected, or even expected, complications during any eye care procedure can extend the duration of the process as the ophthalmologist may need to use additional interventions or move at a slower pace during the operation. Although complications can happen to anyone undergoing cataract surgery, there are some factors that may increase the risk of the operation becoming more complex:

  • Older age, particularly those over 60
  • The presence of diabetes
  • Combining cataract surgery with another eye care procedure
  • The presence of other eye diseases, such as glaucoma or pseudoexfoliation syndrome
  • Taking certain medications
  • Long-sightedness, also known as hyperopia or hypermetropia, which results in a narrow space between the iris and the cornea
  • Very advanced cataract, as this can take a longer time and more energy to break into fragments


Small pupils

During cataract surgery, your pupil must be dilated to allow access to the ophthalmologist’s surgical instruments to the cataract. The pupil is the hole in the centre of the coloured iris of the eye; the lens, which is where the cataract forms, sits behind the iris. In most cases, the pupil can be dilated using topical eye drops. However, there are some pupils that don’t respond adequately to these drops, which means the eye surgeon must use another approach. These other techniques for opening the iris include tools such as iris hooks, expanders, or a ring known as a Malyugin ring. Pupils that are able to dilate well enough using topical eye drops alone are associated with faster surgery times compared to small pupils that require the surgeon to insert a device to stretch the iris wider. Out of the various tools used to widen the pupil, some are associated with longer operating times. For example, if your surgeon needs to use an iris hook to widen the pupil, this will take a longer time compared to applying a Malyugin ring


Ultimately, while it would be nice to know exactly how long does cataract surgery take, there is a multitude of factors that can unexpectedly lengthen the duration of this common procedure. Although many of these factors are out of your (and to some extent, your eye surgeon’s) hands, there are some things you can consider to help make your surgery as smooth as possible:

  • Disclose all medical history during your pre-operation appointments, even if you think it may not be relevant. This includes any medications you’re currently taking or even stopped recently, any health conditions you have, and your full eye care history. 
  • If you have the option, choose your ophthalmologist well. You may want to ask friends or family who have had cataract surgery if they had a good experience, or if your optometrist has any professional recommendations. 
  • Follow any pre-operation instructions. Some ophthalmologists may recommend pre-operative treatment, such as regular lid wipes or eye drops to prepare the eye for surgery and reduce the risk of excessive inflammation or an infection. 

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Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.

Cataract Surgery Aftercare – Things To Make The Recovery Go Smooth

Despite cataract surgery typically being considered a very safe, effective procedure, many patients
still have qualms about undergoing an eye operation. Common fears include complications occurring
during the surgery and the potential for losing further vision, and also the amount of time taken for
cataract surgery recovery.

While there is always the potential for an unexpected complication popping up during the cataract
recovery period no matter what you do, there are ways you can minimise this risk and make
your post-operative healing process as smooth and uneventful as possible after your cataract


Cataract Surgery in a Nutshell

About 60 000 cataract surgery procedures are performed every day around the world. In the
Western world, success rates of this operation are very high, effectively restoring vision to pre-
cataract levels and sometimes even correcting your need for glasses or contact lenses in the process.

A cataract is an opacity of the lens inside the eye. Although there are several possible causes of
cataract, increasing age is the most common factor, causing this lens to gradually lose its
transparency and resulting in foggy or blurred vision.

Cataract surgery is an operation that removes, or extracts, this hazy, opaque lens from inside the eye
and replaces it with a clear implant. The procedure is performed as day surgery and usually is over in
about 15-20 minutes per eye.

Your eye will be numbed with a local anaesthetic injection or topical anaesthetic eye drops. A small
incision is then made in the cornea, the clear front surface of the eyeball. Through this incision, the
ophthalmologist can insert the instruments needed to break up the cataract into fragments small
enough to be suctioned out from the eye. The incision is also used to insert the implant, known as an
intraocular lens. The incision is designed to self-seal during the cataract surgery recovery period so
no stitches are required.

After your cataract surgery, aftercare instructions will be given to you by your ophthalmologist and
clinical care team. It’s important to follow these instructions in order to minimise your risk of
complications as much as possible.


Cataract Surgery Aftercare

guidelines cataract surgery aftercare melbourneMany cataract surgeons will conduct a few aftercare appointments to ensure your cataract surgery
recovery is going as expected. This exact schedule may differ depending on your surgeon or how
your operation went, but for uncomplicated procedures, you’re likely to have a review exam a day
after your surgery, a week after, and about a month after.

The following cataract surgery aftercare guidelines are a general guide only; your eye surgeon may have more specific instructions to your situation.


Use your prescribed eye drops

After your operation, your ophthalmologist will prescribe you two or
three different eye drop medications. These are often a corticosteroid, an antibiotic, and sometimes
also a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Your recommended dosing schedule is likely to change over
the three or four weeks you’re using these drops, such as using them four times a day for the first
week, then twice a day for the following week, etc. Your ophthalmologist and pharmacist should be
able to write these instructions out clearly for you but if you think you may get confused then be
sure to ask questions or take notes during your appointment. It’s important to stick to the
medication regime through to the end even if your eye feels back to normal quickly. If you’re
experiencing dryness or grittiness in your eyes post-operatively, your ophthalmologist may also
advise you to use lubricant eye drops to help you feel more comfortable.


Keep your eye clean

While avoiding dirt and dust in the eye is an obvious recommendation, it may
not be as common to think of other activities as a potential source of infection. Swimming pools,
saunas, spas, and even the shower are unsterile sources of water. While showering and good
hygiene is still important, your ophthalmologist may recommend you avoid swimming and hot tubs
for several weeks after your procedure. Soaps, shampoos, and makeup should also not go near the
operated eye for about a month, so use clean water only to wash your face.
Protect the eye. It goes without saying to protect your eye against any bumps and bruises while it’s
healing. Immediately after your surgery, you’ll go home with a plastic eye shield. Your
ophthalmologist may suggest you wear this overnight for at least a week to avoid accidentally
rubbing your eye during sleep.


Rest as needed

As your body heals, try to rest physically for the few days following surgery. If you’re
experiencing some pain or discomfort around the eye, you may take painkillers as required if you’ve
not been advised otherwise. It’s also recommended to avoid strenuous activities, such as exercise,
sports, lifting heavy objects, or physically demanding housework.


Immediately after your cataract surgery, you can use your vision as much as feels comfortable

Using your sight will not affect your eye healing during your cataract surgery aftercare period but you may
find your eye feels tired or dry more quickly as it’s still healing, particularly if you’re doing visually
intensive tasks like staring at the computer or reading. During your post-operative period, if anything
feels not right with your eyes or vision, contact your ophthalmologist immediately.



Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second
opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.