With nearly 3 million operations performed every year, cataract surgery is one of the leading outpatient procedures in the U.S. While traditional cataract surgery is generally safe and effective, an increasing number of ophthalmologists are now offering an even safer, more precise alternative: laser cataract surgery. Using very quick bursts of near-infrared light, the femtosecond laser uses 3D imaging technology to guide it through the procedure, so that it may create accurate incisions and soften cataracts prior to their removal. While the procedure is not covered by most insurance plans, we offer payment plans to help you offset the cost. Get started on the path to clearer vision by scheduling a free consultation today.
- The Cataract Incision
The surgeon will start the procedure by using a metal- or diamond-tipped blade to make a series of incisions in the cornea, in order to access the cataract. He will then use another handheld instrument to create an opening in the lens capsule. This opening is necessary for the extraction of the cataract and the placement of the new intraocular lens (IOL). A surgeon’s hand may be steady, but it is no match for laser technology. A surgeon’s incision will often resemble a ragged circle, while an incision made with laser technology will be perfectly round. In fact, some laser technologies, such as Catalys, can create circular incisions that are up to 10x more accurate than those performed by hand.
- Laser Pretreatment to Soften Cataracts
Before extraction, it is important to note that the laser has already softened the cataract. Therefore, the surgeon does not have to apply as much potentially harmful ultrasound energy to break up the cataract prior to extraction. One study lead by William W. Culbertson, MD, of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, found that laser-guided operations required 45% less energy than traditional operations. The result is a much gentler, less complicated removal process.
- Laser Cataract Surgery Requires Less Energy
The next step in either the traditional or laser-guided procedure is removing the cataract fragments from the eye with a vacuum. With the laser-guided procedure, however, the cataract is already significantly softened, meaning less ultrasonic energy is necessary to extract the cataract. This lower energy level results in less stress to the surrounding fibers and membranes than traditional surgery, so the patient recovers faster. Additionally, the low-energy approach emits less heat, and is therefore less likely to result in complications later on.
- Laser Cataract Surgery Causes Less Cell Damage
Many ophthalmologists evaluate their patients’ eye health based on the number of corneal endothelial cells they have left, and for good reason. These cells are responsible for the cornea’s clarity. But the high level of energy used to break up the cataract in a traditional surgery may damage these cells and slow recovery. Laser technology, on the other hand, uses significantly less energy and is therefore much less likely to affect the integrity of the endothelial layer.
- Laser Cataract Surgery is More Precise
The laser-guided approach utilizes optical coherence tomography, or OCT. This 3D imaging method allows the surgeon to visualize the eye from every angle before proceeding to create a customized surgery plan based on the patient’s unique ocular anatomy. The surgeon will use this image to ensure that the incisions are made at the correct location, depth and length across all planes. Precise incisions are necessary, as this ensures correct placement of the intraocular lens (IOL), or replacement lens, which is what enables the patient to experience clearer vision post-surgery.