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Phacoemulsification Surgery for Cataracts


How a cataract looks

Picture comparing a normal lens to a lens clouded by a cataract

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

Picture of an eye lens clouded by a cataract (close-up)

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

Picture of incisions and opening created to begin cataract surgery

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 made in the front of the lens capsule to allow access to the cataract. A small surgical instrument (phaco probe) is inserted into the eye.

Lens is broken up and removed

Picture of a cataract being broken up using ultrasound and removed using suction

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

Picture of two examples of intraocular lenses (IOLs)

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

Picture of an intraocular lens being placed during cataract surgery

After the cataract is removed, an intraocular lens (IOL) may be placed inside the lens capsule. The back of the lens capsule (posterior 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

Picture of an intraocular lens in place after cataract surgery

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

Picture of how the eye looks 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.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerCarol L. Karp, MD - Ophthalmology
Last RevisedAugust 24, 2011

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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