Athens Regional Health System
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Cataract Surgery with IOL

A cataract is the clouding of the eye's lens, which has a direct effect on the retina's ability to focus on light. While most cataracts are caused in old age by protein clumping, the condition can also occur after eye injuries, exposure to radiation or as a birth defect. While cataracts can occur in both eyes, it cannot extend from one eye to the other.

Surgery for cataracts is quite common, as more than half of all Americans who live to be 80 years old experience the condition, the advance of which can also be brought on by smoking and use of alcohol. Cataract surgery is also effective, with an approximate 90 percent success rate with regard to improved vision.

Doctors generally hold off on surgery - which is of the outpatient variety - until the lens becomes so cloudy that the patient is barely able to see. Cataract surgery basically means replacing a defective lens with an artificial stand-in, known as an intraocular lens (or IOL). The procedure consists of one of two different courses of action: phacoemulsification (or phaco) and extracapsular cataract extraction.

In phacoemulsification, an ultrasound-driven probe is inserted through the eye via the cornea, where a small incision is made. The probe vibrates the cataract into tiny particles, which are removed by suction. This procedure can take as little as 15 minutes.

In extracapsular surgery, a larger incision is made in the cornea, and the entire lens is removed. This procedure takes longer than phacoemulsification, usually around 45 minutes to and hour. It is utilized when the cataract is too hard for the ultrasonic technique of phacoemulsification to break the cataract up. Visual recovery time may be longer with the extacapsular technique, and there may be more post-operative discomfort due to the larger incision and sutures required to close the incision.

There are some risks involved in cataract surgery, including infection, inflammation, retinal detachment, bleeding and glaucoma.

In the hours after surgery, the patient's eye should be covered and the patient must have someone available to drive them home. The eye may feel irritated the first few days after the surgery, but the feeling will subside, and the patient can return to a normal lifestyle within a few days.

Because the new lens needs time to focus with the other eye, it can take up to two months before regular vision returns. It's not uncommon to experience bouts of blurry vision, and a new sensitivity to light. Patients are advised to avoid heavy lifting and activities that might stress the eye for at least a week after surgery.

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