Cataract Surgery (Phacoemulsification)

 > Ophthalmology

 > Cataract Surgery (Phacoemulsification)

What is a cataract?

A cataract occurs when the natural lens in your eye becomes cloudy; this is usually caused by ageing. The natural lens in your eye helps you to see clearly by focusing the light rays entering your eye. A cataract causes blurred vision or changes the focus of your eye. If your vision is severely affected, this can interfere with your daily activities, including reading, watching television and driving.

What are the benefits of surgery?

Cataract surgery will help you to see clearly again.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

New glasses may improve your vision to some extent but if the cataract is too advanced, glasses will not help. Your surgeon (ophthalmologist) will assess you and tell you if cataract surgery is suitable for you. Leaving a cataract untreated does not threaten your vision straightaway but it can be disabling. If the cataract does get worse, your vision will also get gradually worse until you have little vision left. However it is your decision to go ahead with the operation or not.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is usually performed under a local anaesthetic given as eye drops. The operation usually takes about 20 minutes.

Cataract surgery involves removing the cataract and replacing it with an artificial lens implant.

Your surgeon will make a small cut at the edge of the cornea, which is the clear part at the front of your eye covering the iris and pupil. They will usually break the cataract into small pieces using ultrasound (sound waves) and then remove it from your eye through the cut.

Your surgeon will place the lens implant behind the iris in the same bag (or capsule) in your eye that held the natural lens in place.

How soon will I recover?

Do not drive, operate machinery or do any potentially dangerous activities for at least 24 hours and not until you have fully recovered feeling, movement and co-ordination.

If you have had a general anaesthesia or sedation, you should also not sign legal documents or drink alcohol for at least 24 hours.

Your surgeon will tell you when you can return to normal activities. Most people resume normal activities soon after the procedure. It is important to look after your eye as advised, to reduce the risk of complications.

Your surgeon may give you an eye shield to wear at night for about a week.

You will be given eye drops to instil following your surgery, these may continue for up to 6 weeks.

Your surgeon will tell you if new glasses will improve your vision.

Do not swim or lift anything heavy until you have checked with your surgeon.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Do not drive until you are confident about controlling your vehicle and always check your insurance policy and with your doctor.

What complications can happen?

General complications of any operation

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Specific complications of this operation

  • Tear in the bag which holds the lens in place
  • Heavy bleeding inside your eye
  • Clouding of the bag which holds the artificial lens in place
  • Retinal detachment
  • Inflammation in your other eye
  • Cornea abrasion
  • Cystoid macular oedema, which is a swelling of the area of the retina responsible for visual sharpness
This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice your healthcare team gives you. This information is published under license from EIDO Healthcare UK and is protected by copyright. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print, download or otherwise reproduce it.

A cataract is a common problem where the natural lens of your eye becomes cloudy. If your vision is getting worse and affecting your daily activities, cataract surgery should improve your vision.

What to do next
  1. Talk to us about ways to pay, either insured or self-pay, and find out if you need a referral from your doctor.
  2. If you need one, ask your doctor for a referral letter.
  3. Call us to book an appointment with a consultant.
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