Harvard Health Letter

What's the latest in cataract surgery?

Advances in imaging, measuring, and lenses are making the procedure even better.

cataract-eye-vision
Image: Thinkstock

A cataract—clouding of the lens inside the eye—is a common cause of poor vision and blindness among older adults. But cataracts can be removed and replaced with artificial lenses. Sound scary? It's not. "Cataract surgery is something that just about everyone will need if you live long enough. Thankfully, with all of the tools and technologies at our disposal, much of it has become fairly routine. The vast majority of people have excellent outcomes with improvement in their quality of vision," says Dr. Christian Song, a cataract and refractive surgeon at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Typical surgery

Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure. To remove the cataract, the surgeon makes a circular incision around the eye's lens, and then uses ultrasound technology to break up and remove the cloudy lens. After that, a new lens is slipped into the eye.

Some surgeons still use a scalpel for the incision. But more and more, surgeons are using an ultra-short-pulse (femtosecond) laser. "It allows us to make incisions much more precisely than we can by hand, and softens the cataract for easier removal. I feel it's also made the surgery a little safer," says Dr. Song. Another advantage is that the laser helps to ensure better centering of the implanted lens. And 3D imaging is integrated with the laser, which allows greater precision.

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