Cataract what is laser cataract surgery

Published on December 22nd, 2012 | by Mark A Erickson

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Laser cataract surgery

Femtosecond laser cataract surgery. Recent advances in laser technology have led to the development of a new laser surgery technique for treating cataracts known as femtosecond laser surgery.

This article will explore the advances that this new type of cataract surgery brings, the differences between the new technique and the older, traditional one, and the risks involved with the new procedure.


What is a cataract?

A cataract affects the lens of the eye. The lens is normally clear, but with age and certain eye conditions, a cataract can develop, causing the eyesight to become blurry, as light cannot pass through the lens correctly.  Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes. The cloudier the lens, the worse the vision and the greater the need for cataract surgery.

Click here to watch a Cataract Surgery animation

Cataract surgery

In traditional cataract surgery, an incision is made with a steel blade or a diamond knife. The pieces of lens are then removed. Afterwards a new lens (intraocular lens) is put in to replace the old. Cataract surgery is one of the safest surgeries to be sure, but the precision at which it can be done depends on the surgeon’s skill.

Laser cataract surgeryCataract photo

With laser cataract surgery, the surgeon uses a femtosecond laser to make the most important incisions. These precise incisions yield results that are shown to be 10 times more accurate. (A femtosecond, in laymen’s terms, is incredibly fast.)


Removing the cataract involves creating an opening in the extremely thin membrane (capsule) that covers the natural lens of the eye.  Traditional methods using handheld surgical tools are generally safe but the new femtosecond laser process has been shown to be more accurate by far in over 90% of all cases studied.

Whichever technique is used the old, damaged lens must be removed and to do this, it must first be broken into manageable pieces.  With the traditional surgery, an ultrasound device (phacoemulsifier) is normally used to divide the lens into several pieces and then to remove the pieces.  With femtosecond surgery, the laser cuts the lens more quickly and accurately and also softens it so that there is less energy needed when using the ultrasound to remove it. This also is less damaging to the capsule membrane, which is important, since it will need to be strong and intact to hold the new lens in place.

The final major step in cataract surgery is to position a new intraocular lens (IOL) in the place where the old used to sit. Having used the new femtosecond laser, since it’s more accurate, allows for better and finer placement of the new lens and thus result in better vision for the patient afterwards.

Laser cataract surgery is not without risks but, thankfully, they are few. Subconjunctival hemorrhages (burst blood vessels) may occur due to the use of pressure during the procedure but these minor bleeds don’t affect the outcome and are not painful. Some slight discomfort can occur, as with all surgeries, but in fact has been seen to be much less than with traditional cataract surgery.

In conclusion, the new femtosecond cataract surgery appears to offer a safer, more accurate solution for those people suffering from cataracts.

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About the Author

Mark Erickson is a certified ophthalmic technician and ophthalmic photographer. He is a technical writer in the eye care industry. Mark is also an ophthalmic medical illustrator. His works have been published on the covers of more than 60 eye care publications. Some of his clients include National Geographic, Bausch & Lomb, Johnson & Johnson, Transitions, Genentech and Allergan.



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