Laser cataract surgery involves using a laser beam to make incisions in the eye and break up a cataract. It offers an alternative to traditional surgery, in which surgeons break up a cataract manually.

During laser cataract surgery, a surgeon uses a laser to make small incisions in the eye and break up a cataract. They then replace the clouded lens with a clear, artificial lens.

This article examines laser cataract surgery procedures, including recovery, risks, and effectiveness.

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The purpose of laser cataract surgery is to remove a cataract, which is a clouding of the eye’s lens. Cataracts cause blurry, hazy, or dull vision.

During the procedure, a surgeon uses a laser to make small incisions to enter the eye and break up a cloudy lens. They can then remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL), allowing the person to see clearly again.

Are there alternatives to laser cataract surgery?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, surgery is the only treatment option for cataract removal. However, different types of surgery are available.

The alternative to laser cataract surgery is traditional cataract surgery, in which surgeons use a blade to make incisions into the eye. They then use tools to break up the cataract manually.

Laser cataract surgery involves using a laser to make the incisions into the eye and help break the cataract up.

In both types of procedure, a surgeon removes the cataract from the eye with an ultrasonic probe through a process called phacoemulsification.

According to a 2023 review, there are no significant differences between laser cataract surgery and standard phacoemulsification cataract surgery in terms of the following:

  • complications during or after surgery
  • quality of vision after surgery
  • quality of life

However, laser cataract surgery is generally more expensive.

People may have laser cataract surgery in a hospital or at an outpatient surgery center. They will remain awake for the surgery but may have sedatives to relax them.

The procedure may involve the following steps:

  1. A surgeon numbs the eye area with an injection or numbing eye drops.
  2. Using a microscope, a surgeon guides the laser to create small incisions into the eye through the cornea, the eye’s outer layer.
  3. The laser cuts a circle in the lens and breaks up the cataract into small pieces for removal.
  4. The surgeon uses phacoemulsification to remove the cataract pieces from the eye.
  5. The surgeon places a new, artificial lens into the eye.
  6. A person may wear a shield over the eye for protection during healing.

People may be aware of light and movement during the procedure but will not see what is happening to the eye.

People will need to follow specific instructions from a doctor to prepare for laser cataract surgery.

Before surgery, a doctor will take eye measurements to determine the right artificial lens to fit.

A doctor may also prescribe eye drops for people to use in the lead-up to surgery. These can help prevent swelling and infection during and after the surgery.

The night before and the morning of surgery, a person may need to clean the eyelashes and eyelids with baby shampoo. This helps remove bacteria and reduce the risk of infection.

People may also need to avoid eating solid food for at least 6 hours before the procedure.

The incisions a surgeon makes to the eye during this surgery usually heal by themselves.

However, people may need to wait in the hospital or surgical center for 15–30 minutes to recover before they can leave. People will not be able to drive straight after the surgery, so they will need to arrange for someone to take them home.

After surgery:

  • doctors may prescribe eye drops to help prevent swelling and infection
  • people may need to wear a shield or eyeglasses to protect the eye while it heals
  • it is important to avoid rubbing or pressing the eye and to keep soap and water from getting directly into the eye

People can discuss recovery times with their surgeon, who can provide advice about when they can be active again. This includes activities such as driving and exercising.

In most cases, the eye will take 8 weeks to completely heal following cataract surgery. People will need to attend any check-ups the surgeon recommends to ensure the eye is healing well.

When to contact a doctor

People need to contact a doctor straight away if they experience any of the following after cataract surgery:

A 2017 review reports a low rate of complications with laser cataract surgery and promising results in terms of vision and eye refraction.

Potential benefits of laser cataract surgery compared with alternative surgical methods may include:

  • improved quality and increased precision of incision
  • decrease in loss of endothelial cells in the eye
  • reduced use of ultrasound
  • may help reduce or correct astigmatism, an imperfection in the curve of the eye that can affect vision

According to the National Eye Institute, 9 in 10 people have better vision after cataract surgery. However, it does not specify whether this number varies depending on the type of cataract surgery.

Cataract surgery may resolve blurry, clouded vision, but there is the possibility that symptoms can return.

Posterior capsular opacification (PCO) is a clouding of the eye, or secondary cataract, which can occur weeks, months, or years after cataract surgery.

If people develop PCO, they may need a YAG laser capsulotomy, a procedure that uses a laser to restore vision.

Risks of cataract surgery may include:

  • eye infection
  • bleeding in the eye
  • swelling of the eye or retina
  • blurred vision
  • vision loss
  • a detached retina
  • damage to areas of the eye
  • pain that does not ease with over-the-counter pain relief medications
  • distorted vision, such as seeing dark shadows, halos of light, or glare
  • an artificial lens moving out of place

Below are some common questions about laser cataract surgery.

How much does laser cataract surgery cost?

Laser cataract surgery may cost around $1,000–$5,000 per eye, depending on the type of lens implant a person selects.

Medical and private insurance will typically cover the cost of traditional cataract surgery but will not cover laser cataract surgery. People can speak with a healthcare professional to learn more.

Is laser cataract surgery painful?

Before starting the procedure, a surgeon will numb the eye with eye drops or an injection so people will feel little to no pain or discomfort. A doctor may also provide medication, such as sedatives, to help a person relax.

After the surgery, people may experience some discomfort, or the eye may feel itchy and sensitive to touch and light. This may last for around 1–2 days.

Laser cataract surgery involves using a laser to make incisions and break up a cataract in the eye. A surgeon can then remove and replace the clouded lens with a clear lens.

People may need to wear protection over the eye during their recovery period to ensure they heal properly.

People should speak with a doctor if they experience severe eye pain, vision loss, or extensive floaters after laser cataract surgery.