Cataract surgery comes of age

Not your father’s cataract surgery: new tools, lasers and technology make cataract surgery far easier, safer and effective than ever before.

Cataract surgery has come a long way, according to Virginia Lolley, M.D., an ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

lolley_cataract_surgery_s“The new measure of success in cataract surgery is 20/20 vision and no more glasses,” said Lolley. “Not so many years ago, patients would simply be happy with better vision, even if they still had to wear glasses.”

The dawn of modern cataract surgery can be traced to 1949, when the first intraocular lens (IOL) was implanted in England, and there are references to treating cataracts in ancient Roman writings. 

The UAB Callahan Eye Hospital is turning 50 years old this year. When first built, it included full-service hospital rooms for overnight stays — mostly for cataract patients.

“Forty-to-fifty years ago, patients spent as many as two weeks in the hospital following cataract surgery,” said Lolley. “Now, with new surgical techniques, with advanced intraocular lenses and even laser-guided precision, the procedure is done as outpatient surgery. It’s much simpler and safer, and it boasts outstanding results.”

Lolley said most patients can achieve 20/20 vision after cataract surgery now, and the procedure can help treat secondary problems such as astigmatism and presbyopia through the use of specialized IOL’s. 

Laser surgery is the newest addition to the tool box. The Callahan Eye Hospital offers the LenSx® laser, which allows surgeons to perform cataract surgery with laser precision. Unlike traditional cataract procedures that use a blade to make incisions in the eye, the LenSx® laser uses an image-guided laser to make the incisions. This allows each cataract surgery to be more precise than traditional methods, achieving highly accurate and predictable results.  

“It’s a great new tool for surgery,” said Lolley. “With laser cataract surgery, we can customize each procedure to the patient's individual corneal contour to get the best possible results.”

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging and are common in seniors. The National Eye Institute reports that by age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.

The surgery involves two small incisions in the cornea to allow access for instruments. Surgeons use ultrasound energy to break up the cloudy lens and remove it via suction. The artificial IOL is then slipped into the eye, restoring normal or near-normal vision.

The need for cataract surgery is going to continue to grow as the baby boom generation ages, said Lolley, making a tool like the LenSx® laser particularly valuable.

“Baby Boomers want results and won’t settle for what their parents’ generation had,” she said. “Cataract surgery has evolved into a very successful and routine procedure. Continued advances such as lasers and new specialized IOL’s mean even better results are possible beyond what we’ve achieved so far.”

For more information on cataract surgery at UAB, and to see a video about the LenSx® laser, visit uabmedicine.org/seeclearly.

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