Cataracts causing trouble

The eye has a natural lens that focuses incoming light onto the retina at the back of the eye. The retina then transports this image to the brain for processing. Over time, this lens becomes cloudy as cataracts form. The resulting opacity blocks light from passing clearly through to the other side.

Just scrape that gunk off

Cataracts are not a growth on an otherwise healthy lens. Instead, the disease consumes the entire lens structure. To restore proper sight to the eye, cataractous lenses must be removed through a surgical procedure. There’s currently no other method available for removing the blurry vision caused by the disease. With the eye’s natural lens removed, surgeons must put something in place to allow the eye to focus light again.

Can I see clearly now?

The lens sits in a bag of tissue called a capsule that holds the object in place. During cataract removal, doctors preserve this capsule for future use. At the end of the procedure, a custom artificial lens designed for the patient’s eye is placed in the capsule. This lens is the eye’s ticket to seeing clearly from that point on.

Types of Cataract Surgery

With today’s medicine, surgeons can choose from one of three different cataract procedures to perform. Each serves a specific purpose and is used based on the needs of the patient.


Phacoemulsification, or phaco, is the most common form of cataract surgery performed today. During the procedure, the ophthalmologist makes an incision no longer than a few millimeters on the cornea. Through that tiny opening, the physician uses a device emitting ultrasound waves to break up the cataract. The same machine removes the pieces, allowing an artificial lens to be placed.

Because of the small incision, recovery time typically takes no longer than a few days. The eye may need a few weeks to adjust to the new lens implant.

Extracapsular cataract extraction

When cataracts reach a certain level of thickness, extracapsular cataract extraction may be performed instead. During extracapsular cataract extraction, the eye doctor makes a longer incision along the cornea. Since the lens is too thick to break apart, this allows the specialist to remove the lens as a whole. As with phacoemulsification, an artificial lens is placed in the capsule where the cataract used to be.

Sutures are typically used to close the wound, prolonging recovery time somewhat. The eye may need additional time to adjust to the new lens after healing is complete.

Intracapsular cataract extraction

While rarely used, intracapsular cataract extraction can be used on patients with significant issues or trauma to the eye. The resulting procedure requires a substantial incision on the cornea, through which the lens and capsule are removed. Because the surgeon removes the capsule that normally houses the lens, the artificial lens needs to be placed elsewhere. In most cases, the ideal location is in front of the iris.

This surgery has the longest recovery time and the highest chance of infection. More frequent check-ups are required to ensure proper healing and lens placement.