Cataract Surgery

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Cataract surgery is the removal of the natural lens of the eye (also called "crystalline lens") that has developed an opacification, which is referred to as a cataract. Metabolic changes of the crystalline lens fibers over time lead to the development of the cataract and loss of transparency, causing impairment or loss of vision. Many patients' first symptoms are strong glare from lights and small light sources at night, along with reduced acuity at low light levels. During cataract surgery, a patient's cloudy natural lens is removed and replaced with a synthetic lens to restore the lens's transparency.
Following surgical removal of the natural lens, an artificial intraocular lens implant is inserted (eye surgeons say that the lens is "implanted"). Cataract surgery is generally performed by an ophthalmologist(eye surgeon) in an ambulatory (rather than inpatient) setting, in a surgical center or hospital, using local anesthesia (either topical, peribulbar,or retrobulbar), usually causing little or no discomfort to the patient. Well over 90% of operations are successful in restoring useful vision, with a low complication rate.Day care, high volume, minimally invasive, small incision phacoemulsification with quick post-op recovery has become the standard of care in cataract surgery all over the world.


Cataract surgery, using a temporal approach phacoemulsification probe (in right hand) and "chopper"(in left hand) being done under operating microscope at a Navy medical center
Cataract surgery recently performed, foldable IOL inserted. Note small incision and very slighthemorrhageto the right of the still dilated pupil.

There are two main types of cataract surgery

Phacoemulsification(Phaco) is the preferred method in most cases. It involves the use of a machine with an ultrasonic handpiece equipped with a titanium or steel tip. The tip vibrates at ultrasonic frequency (40,000 Hz) and the lens material is emulsified. A second fine instrument (sometimes called a "cracker" or "chopper") may be used from a side port to facilitate cracking or chopping of the nucleus into smaller pieces. Fragmentation into smaller pieces makes emulsification easier, as well as the aspiration of cortical material (soft part of the lens around the nucleus). After phacoemulsification of the lens nucleus and cortical material is completed, a dual irrigation-aspiration (I-A) probe or a bimanual I-A system is used to aspirate out the remaining peripheral cortical material.
Conventional extracapsular cataract extraction (ECCE): Extracapsular cataract extraction involves the removal of almost the entire natural lens while the elastic lens capsule (posterior capsule) is left intact to allow implantation of an intraocular lens. It involves manual expression of the lens through a large (usually 10–12 mm) incision made in the cornea or sclera. Although it requires a larger incision and the use of stitches, the conventional method may be indicated for patients with very hard cataracts or other situations in which phacoemulsification is problematic. Microincision cataract surgery involves a technique by which a cataract can be reached through an incision of 1.5 millimeters or less.
Intracapsular cataract extraction (ICCE) involves the removal of the lens and the surrounding lens capsule in one piece. The procedure has a relatively high rate of complications due to the large incision required and pressure placed on the vitreous body. It has therefore been largely superseded and is rarely performed in countries where operating microscopes and high-technology equipment are readily available. After lens removal, an artificial plastic lens (an intraocular lensimplant) can be placed in either the anterior chamber or sutured into the sulcus.
Cryoextraction is a form of ICCE that freezes the lens with a cryogenic substance such as liquid nitrogen. In this technique, the cataract is extracted through use of acryoextractor— a cryoprobe whose refrigerated tip adheres to and freezes tissue of the lens, permitting its removal. Although it is now used primarily for the removal of subluxated lenses, it was the favored form of cataract extraction from the late 1960s to the early 1980s


Intraocular lens implantation: After the removal of the cataract, an intraocular lens(IOL) is usually implanted into the eye, either through a small incision (1.8 mm to 2.8 mm) using a foldable IOL, or through an enlarged incision, using a PMMA (polymethylmethacrylate) lens. The foldable IOL, made of silicone or acrylic material of appropriate power is folded either using a holder/folder, or a proprietary insertion device provided along with the IOL. The lens implanted is inserted through the incision into the capsular bag within the posterior chamber (in-the-bag implantation). Sometimes, a sulcus implantation (in front or on top of the capsular bag but behind the iris) may be required because of posterior capsular tears or because of zonulodialysis. Implantation of posterior chamber IOL (PCIOL) in patients below 1 year of age is controversial due to rapid ocular growth at this age and the excessive amount of inflammation, which may be very difficult to control. Optical correction in these patients without intraocular lens (aphakic) is usually managed with either special contact lenses or glasses. Secondary implantation of IOL (placement of a lens implant as a second operation) may be considered later. New designs of multifocal intraocular lens are now available. These lenses allow focusing of rays from distant as well as near objects, working much like bifocal or trifocal eyeglasses. Preoperative patient selection and good counselling is extremely important to avoid unrealistic expectations and post-operative patient dissatisfaction. Acceptability for these lenses has become better and studies have shown good results in selected patients. Brands in the market include: ReSTOR (R), Rezoom (R) and Tecnis MF (R).
In addition, there is an accommodating lens that was approved by the US FDA in 2003 and made by Eyeonics,now Bausch & Lomb. The Crystalens (R) is on struts and is implanted in the eye's lens capsule, and its design allows the lens' focusing muscles to move it back and forth, giving the patient natural focusing ability.
Artificial intraocular lenses are used to replace the eye's natural lens that is removed during cataract surgery. These lenses have been increasing in popularity since the 1960s, but it was not until 1981 that the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) approval for this type of products was issued. The development of intraocular lenses brought an innovation into the optical world as before they could be used; patients would not have their natural lens replaced and as a result, they had to wear very thick eyeglasses or some special type of contact lenses. Nowadays, IOLs are especially designed for patients with different vision problems. The main types of IOLs that now exist are divided into monofocal and multifocal lenses.
The monofocal intraocular lenses are the traditional ones, which may provide vision at one distance only: far, intermediate, or near.Patients who choose these lenses over the more developed types will have to overcome the disadvantage of wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses for reading or using the computer. These intraocular lenses are usually spherical, and they have their surface uniformly curved.
The multifocal intraocular lenses are ones of the newest types of such lenses. They are often referred to as "premium" lenses because they are multifocal and accommodative and allow the patient to visualize objects at more than one distance, removing the need to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses. Premium intraocular lenses are those used in correcting presbyopia or astigmatism. Premium intraocular lenses are typically not covered by insurance companies as their additional benefits are considered a luxury and not a medical necessity.An accommodative intraocular lens implant has only one focal point, but it acts as if it is a multifocal IOL. The intraocular lens was designed with a hinge similar to the mechanics of the eye's natural lens.
The intraocular lenses used in correcting astigmatism are called toric and have been FDA approved since 1998. The Star Surgical Intraocular Lens was the first such lens ever developed in the United States and it may correct up to 3.5 diopters. A different model of toric lenses is created by Alcon and may correct up to 3 diopters of astigmatism.
Cataract surgery may be performed to correct vision problems in both eyes, and in these cases, patients are usually recommended to consider monovision. This procedure involves inserting in one eye an intraocular lens that provides near vision and in the other eye an IOL that provides distance vision. Although most patients can adjust to having implanted monofocal lenses in both eyes, some cannot and may experience blurred vision at both near and far. IOLs that emphasize distance vision may be mixed with IOLs that emphasize intermediate vision in order to achieve a type of modified monovision. Bausch and Lomb developed in 2004 the first aspheric IOLs which provide better contrast sensitivity by having their periphery flatter than the middle of the lens. However, some cataract surgeons have debated the benefits of aspheric IOLs, because the contrast sensitivity benefit may not last in older patients.
Some of the newly launched IOLs are able to provide ultraviolet and blue light protection. The crystalline lens of the eye filters these potentially harmful rays and many premium IOLs are designed to undertake this task as well. According to few studies though, these lenses have been associated with a decrease in vision quality.
Another type of intraocular lenses is the light-adjustable one which is still undergoing FDA clinical trials. This particular type of IOLs is implanted in the eye and then treated with light of a certain wavelength in order to alter the curvature of the lens.
In some cases, surgeons may opt for inserting an additional lens over the already implanted one. This type of IOLs procedures are called "piggyback" IOLs and are usually considered an option whenever the lens the result of the first implant is not optimal. In such cases, implanting another IOL over the existent one is considered safer than replacing the initial lens. This approach may also be used in patients who need high degrees of vision correction.
Statistically, cataract surgery and IOL implantation seem to be ones of the safest and with highest success rates procedures when it comes to eye care. However as any other type of surgery it implies certain risks. The cost is another important aspect of these lenses. Although most insurance companies cover the costs of traditional IOLs, patients may need to pay the price-difference in case they choose more advanced lenses, such as the premium ones.


An eye examination or pre-operative evaluation by an eye surgeon is necessary to confirm the presence of a cataract and to determine if the patient is a suitable candidate for surgery. The patient must fulfill certain requirements such as:
The degree of reduction of vision due, at least in large part, to the cataract should be evaluated. While the existence of other sight-threatening diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma, does not preclude cataract surgery, less improvement may be expected in their presence.
The eyes should have a normal pressure, or any pre-existing glaucoma should be adequately controlled on medications. In cases of uncontrolled glaucoma, a combined cataract-glaucoma procedure (Phaco-trabeculectomy) can be planned and performed.
The pupil should be adequately dilated using eyedrops; if pharmacologic pupil dilation is inadequate, procedures for mechanical pupillary dilatation may be needed during the surgery.
The patients with retinal detachment may be scheduled for a combined vitreo-retinal procedure, along with PC-IOL implantation.
In addition, it has recently been shown that patients taking tamsulosin(Flomax), a common drug for enlarged prostate, are prone to developing a surgical complication known as intraoperative floppy iris syndrome(IFIS), which must be correctly managed to avoid the complication   posterior capsule rupture; however, prospective studies have shown that the risk is greatly reduced if the surgeon is informed of the patient's history with the drug beforehand, and has appropriate alternative techniques prepared..