Tens of thousands of eyes undergo a cataract surgery procedure every day around the globe. However, despite cataracts and cataract surgery operations being so prevalent, many are unsure of what to expect during the procedure, let alone what might be involved in the lead-up to surgery or during the post-op recovery. Here is an idea of what you might experience before, during, and after your cataract surgery procedure.
Before Your Cataract Surgery Procedure
The decision to proceed with cataract surgery is made between you and your optometrist or ophthalmologist. You may have found that your vision was no longer adequate for your needs, such as your work requirements or simply to be able to watch TV comfortably. From here, there are a few other decisions to be made, including whether you wish to have your operation via the public or private health system. The public system is free but often has quite long waiting lists of months to a year. Conversely, a private ophthalmologist will likely be able to see you in a matter of a couple of weeks but will often incur significant out of pocket costs, even with private health insurance.
Once you’ve settled on an eye surgeon to perform your cataract surgery, you will need an initial consultation. During this appointment, your ophthalmologist will conduct a comprehensive examination. The point of this examination is to assess your vision and the extent to which your function is impaired, as well as the overall health of your eyes. Doing this enables your ophthalmologist to take precautions against any increased risk of potential complications as well as prepare you with realistic expectations of your cataract surgery.
Before you enter the operating theatre, you and your surgeon must also discuss which intraocular lens implant you wish to replace your cataracts once they’re removed. An intraocular lens implant is an artificial lens that can be calculated to correct the prescription of your eyes. The measurements for these calculations are taken at your pre-operative appointments.
Intraocular implants can be designed to correct one viewing distance, such as long or short vision, but also come in extended depth of focus or multifocal designs. Some patients may opt for an arrangement called monovision, which involves one eye having an intraocular lens that corrects for far-sight while the other eye’s implant corrects for near vision. Choosing an extended depth of focus, multifocal, or monovision arrangement can greatly reduce your need to wear glasses or contact lenses.
If you’re found to have any inflammation around the eye, such as from blepharitis or dry eye, your ophthalmologist may start you on a treatment strategy to address this. Doing so will reduce your risk of infection during your cataract surgery procedure.
During Cataract Surgery
Cataract surgery is typically a quick, uncomplicated day procedure. You will be able to go home on the same day with someone to drive you.
Topical anaesthetic eye drops or a local injection are used to numb the eye in preparation for cataract surgery. General anaesthesia is rarely used unless exceptional circumstances apply, such as a patient with a mental disability who is unable to comply with the surgeon’s instructions. However, if you are feeling particularly anxious or jittery, your ophthalmologist may offer you a light sedative to help calm your nerves. You’ll also have eye drops that dilate the pupil as wide as possible to give the surgeon easy access to the cataract behind it.
Once you’re positioned on the operating table, the surgeon will ask you to fixate your eyes on a point overhead. During the surgery, you won’t feel any pain due to the anaesthesia, but you may experience some sensation of pressure.
A small incision is created in the cornea, which is the transparent front surface of the eye. From here, the membrane bag holding the cataract is peeled open, and the cataract is broken into smaller pieces. These fragments can then be suctioned out from the eye. Your chosen intraocular lens is then inserted through the same corneal incision into the empty membrane bag, and manipulated into its correct position.
There are two methods of modern cataract surgery, both of which are considered safe and effective. The phacoemulsification technique uses handheld manual instruments for all steps and utilises ultrasound energy to fragment the cataract. A newer method known as femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery uses laser technology for many of these steps. An ultrasound probe is still required to break the cataract into pieces; however, by softening the cataract with the femtosecond laser first, less ultrasound energy is required when compared to conventional phacoemulsification.
Cataract Surgery Post-Op
Your surgeon will most probably organise a series of review appointments after your surgery to ensure your eye is healing appropriately. These typically occur a day after your operation, a week later, and then a month later.
In the meantime, you’ll have a list of post-operative instructions to follow. These will include things like:
- Use all your prescribed eye drop medications
- Avoid strenuous activity
- Protect the eye from dust, dirt, soaps, and unsterile water
- Wear your protective eye shield
- Avoid rubbing your eye
Immediately after surgery, you can expect your eye to feel a bit dry and gritty. Your vision will continue to stabilise over the following 4-6 weeks, after which you may be advised to check in with your local optometrist for a prescription update and ongoing care.
Call us now on (03) 9070 3580 for a consultation.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.