It takes a lifetime for cataracts to develop, and only a few minutes to fix! Modern cataract surgery is one of the most impactful procedures per unit of time in the history of the world! Blindness can be prevented or cured in under 15 minutes. Truly a miracle of our modern world.
When we say “under 15 minutes”, that refers to how long the surgery itself takes. The entire process from diagnosing cataracts, to the measurements required to choose a lens implant, to the other preparation steps obviously takes longer than 15 minutes, so let’s walk through the entire process and discuss how long it takes.
Diagnosing Your Cataracts
Diagnosing cataracts requires a simple dilated eye exam. By looking inside your eye, you eye doctor will be able to determine if your natural lens is cloudy, and if this is responsible for your symptoms of blurry vision or reduced quality of vision.It’s important to make sure that you don’t have other problems that are the cause of your blurry vision.
Cataracts are very common. Literally everyone will develop cataracts at some point in their lives, so it’s important to make sure that you don’t also have other causes of vision loss, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, or diabetic eye disease. Of course, there are many causes of vision loss other than cataracts, so it’s important to discuss expectations for your cataract surgery, and lens implant options in the context of whichever other eye conditions you may have.
At some point in the process you’ll have measurements taken to select your lens implant. Some surgeons do these before your initial consultation, and many do them after they’ve examined you and had a chance to look at your cataracts and discuss the suitable and best intraocular lens (IOL) options for you.
These measurements allow your surgeon to choose the lens that’s best for your eye. Many patients think the test in which they are asked, “Which is better… #1 or #2?”, is what determines the lens implant they get. This is not correct. The only things that matter for your lens selection are the size and shape measurements of your eye. Two of the most important measurements are the shape of your cornea and the length of your eye. From these measurements, your surgeon will be able to choose the right prescription for the IOL you choose. In some patients the measurements are more, or less, accurate.
Your surgeon should have a conversation with you about expectations for the accuracy of the lens implant based on your eyes and medical history.
Pre-Operative Medical Clearance
Many patients are required to have a “medical clearance” prior to their cataract surgery. The purpose of this is to determine how safe it is to give you sedation or anesthesia at the time of surgery. As cataract surgery continues to become faster and more automated with lasers, less sedation is required.
Many centers now use oral sedation, so an IV may not be necessary. Some of the determinations for anesthesia depend on the state and federal regulations governing the facility you have your surgery at. Most patients in the United States have some form of IV sedation, however, the number of patients who have oral medications without an IV is growing quickly, and may outgrow the IV group in the next decade.
Day Of Surgery
Now that you’ve had your dilated eye exam, chosen your IOL, and received your medical clearance you’re ready for surgery. The longest part of your surgery day is the preoperative preparatory steps. These include checking in with the front desk staff, dilating your eyes, having an IV placed if that’s the type of anesthesia you’re having, and waiting your turn for surgery.
Once it’s time for your procedure, you typically only have 10-15 minutes. Many patients are quite surprised when their doctor tells them they’re finished that the surgery went by so quickly.
When you consider how life-changing a 10-15 minute procedure like modern cataract surgery is, it’s easy to see why we think of it as a true miracle of modern medicine.