Understanding the Difference Between Traditional and Laser Cataract Surgery

After reading our guide on the difference between traditional and laser cataract surgery, you’ll know:

  • What a cataract is, its causes, and potential treatments
  • What happens during traditional cataract surgery
  • What happens during laser cataract surgery

As laser technology improves, the risk and performance of new surgical methods have far outpaced their traditional counterparts. Still, it’s common to shy away from new technology for whatever reason.

While not everyone is a candidate for laser cataract surgery, it’s still helpful for all patients to understand its difference and traditional cataract surgery. By knowing how the procedures differ, you’ll be able to make an informed decision in consultation with your eye doctor.

What is a Cataract?

A cataract occurs when the lens of the eye begins to cloud. Typically, your cornea is crystal clear, which helps incoming light focus directly on the retina. When a cataract forms, images become less clear and blurred.

Cataracts are fairly common, though they often don’t start forming in eyes until after the individual has turned 40 years old. We jokingly refer to cataracts as the birthday gift no one wants, but with time, everyone will get. It’s expected that at least half of all people over the age of 80 either currently have a cataract or already received cataract surgery to remove the cloudy lens.

There are three main types of cataracts, and they’re differentiated by how they’re formed and their symptoms:

  • Cortical cataracts usually result in seeing white opacities that float towards the center of the lens.
  • Nuclear cataracts are an effect of aging and form deep in the center of the lens.
  • Subscapular cataracts are more common with those diagnosed with diabetes or taking high doses of steroid medications.

Causes

Besides aging, there are a variety of risk factors that could lead to an increased likelihood of developing a cataract:

  • Diabetes
  • Extended use of some cholesterol medications
  • Family history of cataracts
  • History of eye injury, inflammation, or surgery
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • UV radiation exposure

However, at its core, cataracts development has to do with proteins. The lens of the eye is made up of mostly water and protein. A healthy lens should keep those proteins away from each other, preventing them from interfering with light passing through the lens.

If proteins begin to clump together, though, it can begin to obscure the light that passes through the lens. It’s commonly thought that this clumping occurs due to a change in the oxidation level of the eye lens. As oxidation drops, it’s easier for proteins to group.

Symptoms

Symptoms will vary depending on the type of cataract that forms. Generally, though, the first symptom people experience with cataracts is blurry vision. Many people report it feels as if they’re looking through clouded glass.

As your cataract develops, people begin to experience other symptoms. Lights become too bright, which can create an issue while driving at night. Additionally, colors that once looked vibrant and bold will soon begin to dull.

Prevention

There is no clear-cut way to prevent the development of a cataract in one of your eyes. However, the list of risk factors can help create a map of ways to potentially postpone a cataract’s forming. For instance, diets high in antioxidants have been found to help keep the oxidation levels of the eye high.

Furthermore, making sure to wear appropriate eye protection when outside, such as sunglasses that protect 100% of UV rays, may help to reduce the odds of a cataract forming. If you stop smoking or otherwise work to improve your overall health, you may be able to take positive steps in preventing cataract development.

Treatment

Even if a cataract does form, the good news is that the condition is very treatable. Glasses, improved lighting, and visual aids can all help deal with the symptoms of cataracts, for instance.

Surgery, both traditional and laser-guided, is a safe and effective way of removing your cataracts. There is typically little pain in either case, if any, and results in almost immediately improved vision.

What Is Traditional Cataract Surgery?

The goals and outcomes of both traditional and laser cataract surgery are the same: to remove the clouded lens and replace it with a clear artificial one. Even the methods are relatively similar. In both cases, a cut is made in the cornea that allows the surgeon to break up and remove the cataract. Both surgeries even take around the same amount of time: 20 minutes or so.

So, the main difference is the tools involved. The traditional procedure requires the surgeon to make a manual cut in the eye’s cornea using a small scalpel. Then a vibrating needle is used to break up the cataract and make it easier to remove. The lens is then replaced with an artificial intraocular lens or IOL.

As you’ll receive a local anesthetic and mild sedative, the procedure is often painless. While you’ll need someone to drive you home once the surgery is completed, the recovery period is short. In all, it can take up to three to four weeks for your eye to completely heal, but you should be back to your daily routine, with some slight alterations, within a couple of days.

What is Laser Cataract Surgery?

Laser cataract surgery only differs from traditional cataract surgery in the tools used. Instead of relying on your surgeon’s precise cuts with a small scalpel to gain access to the clouded lens, laser cataract surgery relies on a 3-D image of your eye to map out the ideal placement and then makes the incisions effortlessly.

Ultrasound waves are then used to softly break up the cataract and make it easier to remove. The IOL is then inserted to replace the cloudy lens.

The surgery is quick, safe, painless, and effective, with a recovery period similar to that of the traditional cataract procedure. You may need around a month to fully heal, but your vision should be vastly improved within a couple of days, if not immediately after surgery.

Which Surgery is Better?

Both procedures are safe and effective. With laser cataract surgery, the initial incisions can be made more precisely and accurately, cutting down on complications during and after the surgery. However, complications are relatively rare regardless of which procedure you receive.

Laser eye surgery can also help those with astigmatism or an irregular-shaped cornea. This may make laser cataract surgery a better option for patients also dealing with those issues.

Some people are not candidates for laser eye surgery. With skilled, experienced surgeons, like those at The Cataract Surgeons, they generally shouldn’t notice any difference in outcome with the traditional procedure than they would with laser eye surgery.

So, while laser cataract surgery is regarded as more precise, the best surgical option is the one recommended by your eye surgeon after an examination. If you’re unsure if the recommended procedure is right for you, make sure to ask any questions you may have so that you can make the right decision for your needs. We want you comfortable with your decision and encourage you to research your options and ask any question to help you best understand your options.

Schedule An Appointment with the Cataract Surgeons

At The Cataract Surgeons, we use cutting-edge technology and proven methods to help improve our patients’ vision through a variety of treatments and services. Whether it’s your annual eye exam or laser cataract surgery, you’ll receive outstanding care from our doctors and staff.

Although we’re situated in Shreveport, LA, we serve patients all over the country due to our skill, training, and focus on care. Schedule an appointment with us today to see how we can help your vision improve.