Every year about 1.4 million cataract operations are performed in the US, making it the most common operation in the country in people over age 65.

People sometimes wait to have cataract surgery until their eye condition causes them to:

  • Feel unsafe or uncomfortable
  • Be unable to perform normal daily tasks or activities such as:
    • Reading
    • Driving
    • Watching television
    • Taking medications

    Today, however, some eye doctors and surgeons recommend not delaying having cataract surgery because cataract surgery is much safer and more successful than in the past. Delaying surgery may make the surgery more difficult to perform. However, a cataract rarely causes an emergency, so you should not have surgery until you feel comfortable doing so.

Cataract Surgery

Cataract surgery is usually done as an outpatient under local anesthesia and most often takes less than one hour. Most cataract surgeries involve removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial one.

There are two primary types of cataract removal surgery:

  • Phacoemulsification (Small Incision Cataract Surgery)—A tiny probe is inserted into the eye. The probe emits ultrasound waves that break up the cloudy lens into small fragments, then a suction removes these fragments. This is the most common form of cataract removal surgery. This procedure usually requires no stitches.
  • Extracapsular Surgery—An incision is made in the eye, and the hard center of the lens is removed. The remainder of the lens is removed by suction. This surgery requires stitches; however, these stitches can usually stay in the eye permanently. This method is rarely performed today in developed countries.

In both types of surgery, local anesthesia is used so that you do not feel any pain. This can either be in the form of an injection given below the eye or topical drops usually along with placement of numbing medicine into the eye during the surgery. You will also likely be given a sedative to make you more comfortable.

In most cases, the removed lens is replaced by an intraocular lens (IOL). An IOL is a clear or yellow-tinted artificial lens. It requires no special care and remains permanently in the eye. In some cases, an IOL cannot be used, usually due to surgical complications, unusual anatomy, or other eye diseases. In these cases, which rarely occur, either a contact lens or eyeglasses that provide very powerful magnification are used after the surgery to correct the vision.