Cataract Surgery. What you need to know | Plano Eye Health

Cataract surgery

With a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) revealing that 2.2 billion people worldwide suffer from visual impairment or vision loss, the chance that we will experience eye disease in our lifetimes is fairly high [1]. However, the good news is that scientific advancements within the medical field have meant that the knowledge surrounding eye diseases, and how to treat them is much more comprehensive than decades ago. One such example is a cataract. This article will explore all you need to know about cataract surgery.

What is a cataract?

cataract surgery

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A cataract is a clouding in the lens of your eye. The lens is a transparent disc located behind the black part of your eye and is responsible for focusing light onto the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye). When clouding of the lens occurs, it interferes with the lens’ ability to focus light, resulting in light being scattered onto the retina causing a blurred image. As you get older your risk of developing cataracts increases. Over 50% of Americans over the age of 80 have or have had cataracts [2].

Risk of developing cataracts

As with the rest of the body, when it comes to aging it is common for your eye health to deteriorate in the form of various eye problems and eye conditions. As you age the lenses in your eyes become less flexible, less transparent, and thicker. This is caused by the proteins and fibers that make up your lenses breaking down and clumping together, resulting in cataracts. This cataract then blocks and scatters light that enters the eye, preventing it from focusing onto the retina properly.

Cataract signs and symptoms

Cataracts develop slowly and in the early stages, people don’t normally experience any detectable symptoms, meaning that a person with a cataract won’t notice it until their vision is impaired.

  • Blurred or clouded vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses
  • Difficulty seeing in low lighting conditions and at night
  • Fading of colours
  • Double vision
  • Glare or scattering of light
  • Haloes around light sources

cataract surgery

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This is part of the reason that regularly visiting an eye doctor is so important to protecting your eye health and detecting eye problems. If you have cataracts in one eye, your risk of developing cataracts in the other eye increases significantly.

Cataract surgery

The most effective treatment for a cataract is surgery. If you have a cataract that causes changes in your vision and you find completing daily activities increasingly difficult, then your eye doctor might recommend cataract surgery, a safe procedure to reverse the effects of cataracts.

Cataract surgery might also be necessary if you have another eye condition and the cataract is preventing your eye doctor from efficiently examining the retina (light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye) or is preventing treatment of that condition.

Understanding your options and the process and aim of the surgery are important for you and your eye doctor to assess what is best for your situation.

Cataract surgery risks

As with many medical procedures, there are some risks involved in cataract surgery. However, complications are uncommon and often easy to treat in the case of cataract surgery. The most common complications include:

  • inflammation
  • infection
  • drooping eyelid

But in extremely rare cases, some people experience retinal detachment, a condition which is considered a medical emergency, where the retina becomes detached and threatens permanent sight loss. Another rare complication of cataract surgery is a secondary cataract.

cataract surgery

Cataract surgery process

When it comes to cataract surgery there are two types of surgery that are most commonly used. In both instances around a week before the surgery, your ophthalmologist will perform an ultrasound on your eye to measure the shape and size. This is a completely painless process.

Understanding the measurements of your eye is important to fit your lens implant. This lens implant will be placed in your eye during the surgery, to replace the area of the cloudy lens. The surgeon will use an intraocular lens (IOL), a type of artificial lens. These require no care, and you will not be able to feel them inside your eye, and they act the same as a natural lens.

The procedure itself normally takes an hour at most. When you arrive at the hospital, the doctor will administer eye drops to dilate your pupil (the black part of your eye), so that they can see the lens more easily. Before the procedure begins you will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area and maybe given a gentle sedative to help you relax, but otherwise will be conscious when the surgery is performed.

Phacoemulsification cataract surgery

For phacoemulsification cataract surgery (PCS), after the above has happened, the surgeon will make a very small incision in your cornea, the transparent front of your eye. They will then insert a thin needle through the cornea and pupil, into the lens near where the cataract has formed. Using a probe, the surgeon transmits ultrasound waves that break apart the cataract into fragments, which are then suctioned out, removing the cloudy part of the lens. The lens capsule, the very back of the lens, is left intact and is where the surgeon rests the lens implant, to create a clear lens. You might need a small stitch to close the initial incision.

Femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery

A more recently established technique for cataract removal, is femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery (FLACS), which involves a process very similar to that of PCS, but the surgeon uses a femtosecond laser instead of ultrasound waves to breakdown the cataract. This method of cataract eye surgery is considered by some ophthalmologists to be a better option, as it allows for a more precise surgery, and limits the amount of damage that ultrasound waves can potentially cause to surrounding tissues. However, a study published in The Lancet Journal found that FLACS did not provide any added benefits for patients when compared to PCS.

Post-surgery healing and potential risks

After surgery, your doctor might recommend that you wear an eye patch or eye guard to protect your eye in the first few days of its healing, and you might be given eye drops to administer to prevent infection. Your vision may be blurry at first, and it is normal to experience mild itching and discomfort after the operation. It is especially important during the first few weeks of recovery that you avoid rubbing or pressing on your eye. Healing from this operation normally takes around 8 weeks. When your clear vision is returning colours might appear brighter than usual with your new clear lens.

Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following

  • Vision loss
  • Excessive pain
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Light flashes


[1] World Health Organization. WHO launches first World report on vision. Geneva, WHO. 2019.

[2] “Cataracts” National Eye Institute [Online] Available: [Accessed 27 Nov 2021]

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