Phacoemulsification surgery for cataracts
How a cataract looks
In a normal eye, the lens—which lies behind the pupil—is clear (transparent), so the pupil appears black. In an eye with a severe cataract, the cataract clouds the lens. So the eye doctor sees the pupil as gray or cloudy.
Close-up of a cataract
The cornea is the clear layer that covers the front of the eye. The lens is contained inside the eye's lens capsule. A cataract is a partial or complete cloudiness in the lens.
Incision for surgical instrument is made
Two small cuts (incisions) are made in the eye where the clear front covering of the eye (cornea) meets the white of the eye (sclera). Next, a small, circular opening is created in the front lining of the lens (anterior capsule) to allow access to the cataract. A small surgical instrument (Phaco probe) is inserted through the incision and through the open anterior capsule.
Lens is broken up and removed
The probe uses sound waves (ultrasound) to break the cataract into small pieces. Then the surgeon uses suction to remove the cataract and lens pieces from the eye.
Intraocular lens (IOL) examples
A variety of IOL types are available to replace your natural lens. Your doctor can help you choose the type that may work best for you.
A lens replacement (IOL) is inserted
After the cataract is removed, an intraocular lens (IOL) may be placed in front of the back lining of the lens (posterior lens capsule). The back of the lens capsule is left inside the eye to keep the clear gel in the back of the eye (vitreous gel), as well as the IOL, in place.
Intraocular lens in place
The intraocular lens (IOL) takes the place of the eye's natural lens. The incision does not usually require stitches, unless the surgeon decides they are needed.
Before and after cataract surgery
Before cataract surgery, the cloudy lens can be seen through the pupil. After cataract surgery, the pupil appears black because the intraocular lens is clear.
Last Updated: September 9, 2009
Author: Debby Golonka, MPH
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Christopher J. Rudnisky, MD, FRCSC - Ophthalmology