If you’re about to be one of the 250,000 Australians undergoing cataract surgery every year, you may have a few questions about this common eye care procedure. In addition to wondering how long does a cataract surgery take, you may also like to know whether there’s any way you can influence this duration. Here’s what to expect.
How Long Does a Cataract Surgery Take?
Not many people enjoy lying on an operating table, so you’ll be pleased to know that cataract surgery is usually quite a short procedure. Although your cataract surgeon will probably tell you to allow up to 2 hours in the clinic, the actual time spent on the cataract surgery itself is often as little as 10 to 15 minutes per eye. The rest of the time is spent preparing your eye for surgery, such as sterilising the area, dilating your pupils with eyedrops, administering sedation, and then ensuring that after your cataract surgery, you’re feeling okay before being driven home.
When it comes to the cataract operation itself, there are several factors that can affect the duration of your procedure. These can include:
- Whether your pupils dilate well with the eyedrops or need further intervention. Pupil dilation is an important step in the cataract surgery procedure because the cataract sits behind the iris. Widening the aperture in the middle of the iris, the pupil, allows the surgeon to access the cataract with all his or her tools. An inadequately dilated pupil can be a cause for complications during the operation, so if pharmacological eyedrops are insufficient, your cataract surgeon will need to employ another technique. Needing to insert iris stitches, iris hooks, or ring expanders during the operation will prolong the surgery time.
- Experience of your surgeon. As expected, the more experienced your cataract surgeon, the shorter the answer to how long does a cataract surgery take. Conversely, a more junior surgeon may take longer as he or she moves more cautiously or may take more time to manage complications during the cataract surgery.
- The type of anaesthesia can also make a difference to your cataract surgery duration. A general anaesthetic is not typically used for this outpatient eye care operation, however, cataract surgeons may choose between a local anaesthetic or nerve block, or topical anaesthesia with numbing eye drops. Using topical anaesthetic will keep operating time shorter while administering local anaesthesia naturally takes a longer time. There are pros and cons of each type of anaesthesia, so you may wish to discuss this with your cataract surgeon ahead of time if you’re concerned.
- If your surgeon encounters any complications during the cataract surgery, it will naturally extend the operating time. Some complications can be anticipated, such as if you have known risk factors, while others are unexpected. If your operation is less straightforward than average, your cataract surgeon will need to use additional interventions or simply move more slowly and cautiously.
Can You Influence How Long Your Cataract Surgery Takes?
While the unexpected can happen even in the hands of the most prepared and experienced eye care surgeons, there are some steps you can take to minimise the likelihood of a prolonged operation. Bear in mind that these do not guarantee you a perfectly smooth and uneventful cataract extraction but can help to reduce the risk of encountering a complication or adverse outcome.
Ensure that your cataract surgeon is fully aware of your general health and medications. Although you may feel an over-the-counter medication you take is irrelevant to your cataract operation, you may be surprised at how different systemic medications or other health conditions can interact with the success of your cataract surgery. Even naturopathic herbal remedies may factor in. For example, turmeric or curcumin is often taken for its antioxidant effects, but not everyone knows it also has blood-thinning properties, which can affect wound healing after surgery.
Don’t wait for too long to go for your cataract operation. Infrequently is there a need for an eye care practitioner to encourage a patient towards cataract surgery before they feel ready. In most cases, it’s safe to postpone the operation until you feel your vision is significantly impacting your daily tasks. However, people who allow their cataract to advance to a hypermature stage are at a higher risk of experiencing a complication during their operation. More energy is required to break down an overly advanced cataract, and there is often more post-operative inflammation in the eye. If you’re unsure when is the appropriate timing for your cataract surgery, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will be able to perform regular reviews and advise you accordingly.
Depending on where you live and whether you have your operation via the private or public system, you may not have many options for choice of cataract surgeon. However, if the choice is available to you, choose a reputable, experienced ophthalmologist. You may wish to ask your family optometrist or GP for recommendations or get a personal recommendation from friends or family who have had a successful cataract operation with a particular surgeon.
Ultimately, it is not possible to completely control what will happen on the operating table. However, taking sensible precautions and keeping an open line of communication with your cataract surgeon can help to contribute to a smooth and uneventful procedure. Call us now on (03) 9070 5753.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
The incidence of falls after first and second eye cataract surgery: a longitudinal cohort study.
Factors affecting cataract surgery operating time among trainees and consultants.