Cataract surgery used to be a nightmare for aging adults – so much so that patients often put off care until they could barely see or function. The way cataract surgeries used to be performed required patients to undergo lengthy, uncomfortable recoveries in which their heads had to be stabilized and they had to take weeks or months off work or away from favorite activities.
However, in the past 20 to 30 years ophthalmologists have seen an evolution in cataract surgery. Advancements in technology and understanding of the eyes allow us not only to remove cataracts but also to use cataract surgery as a refractive procedure, meaning we can better target how well patients see after surgery.
In other words, this isn’t your grandparents’ cataract surgery. If you’re diagnosed with cataracts today, you have the advantage of more precise procedures, shorter recovery time, and better outcomes. Let’s discuss what’s changed and what’s on the horizon.
Improvements in cataract treatment
During cataract surgery, we remove the cloudy natural lens and replace it with a clear artificial lens that now has a prescription, which means that in addition to getting rid of the cloudiness we can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism during the procedure. It also means that, after surgery, many patients will likely be able to see far away, work on a computer, play games or cards, and even read without glasses because of newly developed lens implants that provide these capabilities.
Improvements in cataract surgery also have led to faster recovery. We use smaller incisions today that are self-healing, which means sutures are no longer necessary. Using the latest technology, our doctors measure the affected eye and apply carefully calculated formulas to determine the power for the optimal lens replacement. Then we use image-guided technology to help plan the surgery and treat the cataract.
In the past, recovery could last three months or longer and often involved a hospital stay and immobilization. Today, cataract surgery is nearly always an outpatient procedure done under local anesthetic – usually just drops to numb the surface of the eye. After surgery, patients can resume their normal activities relatively quickly. The only restriction usually is to avoid swimming for a month after surgery, but meanwhile most patients can lift weights, jog, play tennis, or golf as soon as they feel ready.
"Advancements in technology and understanding of the eyes allow us not only to remove cataracts but also to use cataract surgery as a refractive procedure, meaning we can better target how well patients see after surgery."
Advances in cataract care
We’re just at the start of seeing what’s possible in cataract surgery, and the digital age will further revolutionize what doctors can do in terms of safety and precision. UT Southwestern is at the forefront of advanced ophthalmologic technology, and new techniques and tools are developed every year. Doctors today have more control over procedures and can provide better results than we could just a few years ago. That said, it’s likely that our current standards might seem outdated in another 10 to 20 years!
For example, I expect that optical coherence tomography, which is technology similar to ultrasound measurements of the eye, will become available during surgery to help make procedures more precise. Also, I predict that the next generation of surgeons will not be looking through a microscope but rather will be working with headsets connected to a three-dimensional monitor. Doctors and researchers also are on the brink of creating lens implants that will be light-adjustable to further improve patient outcomes.
Today’s patients can expect precise results and smooth recovery with our advanced procedures. If you’ve been diagnosed with cataracts and are considering surgery, we’ll answer your questions and help you choose the best care for your eyes. Call 214-645-8300 today or request an appointment online.