The treatment and management of cataracts are an important part of eye care, mainly because cataracts are so common in our ageing population. Thousands of cataract surgery procedures are performed every year, and the public waitlist for cataract surgery can exceed 12 months. With so many cataract operations churning through every day, many eye surgeons have identified factors that impact their efficiency at this popular procedure. Keep reading to find out how long does cataract surgery take and the factors that affect the operating time.
How Long Does Cataract Surgery Take?
There are several factors that affect cataract surgery operating times and not all of them are within the control of your eye surgeon. Typically, a straightforward, uncomplicated cataract surgery procedure can be over in as soon as 10-15 minutes per eye. Conversely, some operations may take over half an hour in the case of unexpected (or even expected) complications. According to research, here are some factors that may affect the duration of your operation.
Expertise and experience of the surgeon
Unsurprisingly, the more cataract surgery procedures an eye care specialist has under the belt, the faster and more efficient he or she will be. A study looking at the operating times of various levels of experience found that the most senior and experienced eye surgeons (consultants), generally demonstrated significantly shorter times compared to junior surgeons. The operating time of a consultant ranged from 9 to 29 minutes, while junior ophthalmologists completed their procedures within 19 to 41 minutes.
Even though cataract surgery typically boasts high success rates and a low risk of complications in Australia, even the simplest of eye care procedures have the potential to go awry. Regardless of the skill of the eye surgeon, unexpected complications may lengthen the duration of the cataract procedure as the surgeon may be required to utilise additional interventions or simply work at a more cautious pace. Certain factors have been found to increase the complexity of a cataract operation:
- Older age
- Other concurrent eye diseases, such as glaucoma
- Certain medications
- Simultaneously performing cataract surgery with another eye care procedure, such as inserting a stent for glaucoma
- Hyperopia (long-sightedness), resulting in a narrowed space between the iris and the cornea
- A very advanced or mature cataract, which can be difficult to fragment into pieces for removal from the eye
Type of anaesthesia
Cataract surgery is most commonly performed with local or topical anaesthesia. A local anaesthetic may be administered as an injection around the eye area, while topical anaesthesia is instilled as eye drops. Cataract procedures involving a topical anaesthetic eye drop are found to result in a much shorter operating time compared to local anaesthesia. General anaesthesia is rarely used for cataract surgery, however, in the case of a special need, such as a mental impairment, it may be offered. This would conceivably further lengthen the total procedure time.
The pupil is the aperture in the centre of your coloured iris. To be able to access the cataract behind the iris, the pupil must be dilated, typically with eye drops. However, in some cases, pharmaceutical eye drops are not able to dilate the pupil adequately. In these instances, the eye surgeon must use another technique to widen the pupil, such as iris hooks, expanders, or rings. Eyes that can be sufficiently dilated with pharmaceutical eye drops alone are associated with much shorter surgery times compared to eyes that require another intervention. For those that do require the use of a device, certain techniques may take longer to implement. For example, widening the iris with a ring is associated with faster operating times compared to using an iris hook.
Can Anything Be Done to Reduce Your Operation Time?
Even the most experienced eye surgeon will not always be able to give an exact answer to how long does cataract surgery take. However, taking into account the following may help to reduce your risk of unexpected complications arising during your operation, thereby potentially keeping your procedure time to a minimum.
Be open about your medical history
It’s important to give your eye specialist an accurate picture of your health, particularly your eye care history. Even if you think it may not be relevant to your cataract surgery procedure, you may be surprised at how seemingly unrelated systemic conditions or medications can have an impact, whether on the cataract operation itself or the post-operative period. During your preoperative consultations, your eye surgeon will want to know of any health conditions you have, any past eye infections or injuries, and any medications you’re currently taking or have stopped recently.
Follow any pre-operative instructions
Depending on your eyes and your eye specialist, you may be recommended to follow some treatments before your surgery. This can include improving the hygiene of the eyelids and skin around the eyes with lid wipes, or by using medicated eye drops. The aim of these pre-operative instructions is to reduce your likelihood of excessive inflammation or infection after your cataract surgery.
Ask for eye surgeon recommendations
If the choice is available to you, you may want to ask your GP, optometrist, or friends or family who have had cataract surgery about who they might recommend performing your surgery. A personal recommendation is always better than choosing a surgeon at random!
Call us on (03) 9070 5753 for a consultation.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.