Cataract Surgery

  • Medical Author:
    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, FACS

    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist. Dr. Dahl's educational background includes a BA with Honors and Distinction from Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and an MD from Cornell University, where he was selected for Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society. He had an internal medical internship at the New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideCataracts Causes, Symptoms, Vision Tests, and Surgery

Cataracts Causes, Symptoms, Vision Tests, and Surgery

What are the different types of cataract surgery?

The standard cataract surgical procedure is performed in a hospital or in an ambulatory surgery center on an outpatient basis. The most common form of cataract surgery today involves a process called phacoemulsification. After numbing the eye with drops or an injection, your surgeon, with the use of an operating microscope, will make a very small incision in the surface of the eye in or near the cornea. A thin ultrasound probe, which is often confused with a laser by patients, is inserted into the eye and uses ultrasonic vibrations to break up (phaco-emulsify) the clouded lens. These tiny fragmented pieces are then suctioned out using the same ultrasound probe. Once the cataract is removed, an artificial lens is placed into the thin capsular bag that the cataract previously occupied. This lens is essential to help your eye focus after surgery.

There are three basic techniques for cataract surgery:

  1. Phacoemulsification: This is the most common form of cataract removal as explained above. In this most modern method, cataract surgery can usually be performed in less than 30 minutes and usually requires only minimal sedation. Numbing eyedrops or an injection around the eye is used and, in general, no stitches are used to close the wound, and often no eye patch is required after surgery.
  2. Extracapsular cataract surgery: This procedure is used mainly for very advanced cataracts in which the lens is too dense to dissolve into fragments (phaco-emulsify) or when phaco-emulsification is impossible. This technique requires a larger incision so that the cataract can be removed in one piece without being fragmented inside the eye. An artificial lens is placed in the same capsular bag as with the phacoemulsification technique. This surgical technique requires a various number of sutures to close the larger wound, and visual recovery is often slower. Extracapsular cataract extraction usually requires an injection of numbing medication around the eye and an eye patch after surgery.
  3. Intracapsular cataract surgery: This surgical technique requires an even larger wound than extracapsular surgery, and the surgeon removes the entire lens and the surrounding capsule together. This technique requires the intraocular lens to be placed in a different location, in front of the iris. This method is rarely used today but can still be useful in certain situations.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/26/2016

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