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What's It Like: To get cataract surgery

There are two types of cataract surgery: phacoemulsification and extracapsular surgery.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: September 9, 2012

Q: Why get cataract surgery?

A: A cataract is a clouding of your eye's lens. Most patients suffering from the development of a cataract will go to the ophthalmologist and say something to the effect of “I can't see.” It might be that they can't see to drive, especially at night. People generally think they need to new glasses, but sometimes, their issue is that they have developed a cataract in one of their eyes.

More than half of Americans by age 80 either have a cataract or have had the surgery to repair this common vision problem. In 90 percent of cases, people have better vision after the surgery.

There are some types of cataract that aren't age related, including secondary cataract, traumatic cataract, congenital cataract and radiation cataract. Smoking, prolonged sun exposure and diabetes are things thought to increase the risk of developing cataracts.

What happens?

A: There are two types of cataract surgery: phacoemulsification and extracapsular surgery. You should talk with your doctor about which procedure is right for you.

In general, during a cataracts procedure, you will be lightly sedated and might sleep through the surgery.

A medical professional will give you an injection to numb your eye and keep the eye from moving during surgery. There's an alternative method where, instead of an injection, a doctor will use drops to numb your eye.

Your surgeon will start a series of incisions that, in some procedures, will be about two millimeters. This will allow your doctor the ability to enter your eye.

Your lens is behind your eye's iris. Your lens is what becomes cloudy as you age, causing the cataract. Doctors will go in and remove the cloudy lens and leave what looks like a cellophane bag in place. That bag will soon house an artificial lens, usually what's known as an intraocular lens, that the doctor will place in your eye.

The operation generally lasts less than an hour.

Q: Does it hurt?

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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