The average cataract surgery takes about 30 minutes.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common and successful surgical procedures. Over 2 million Americans undergo this procedure each year, making it one of the top 10 most performed procedures in the United States.
In most cases, cataract surgery can be performed in less than an hour, but some factors may increase or decrease the time involved.
Cataract surgery is a short, simple procedure that usually lasts about 30 to 45 minutes. However, certain factors can change this time estimate. Depending on how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms and how severe they are, the whole process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours.
To remove the clouded lens, your doctor will make a small incision in your eye. The doctor will then take out the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). This IOL helps to preserve your vision and keep you from developing additional cataracts in the future.
The incision is usually made on the cornea’s surface, which is the clear tissue covering the front of your eye. This incision can be closed with stitches or glue and heal quickly.
Afterward, there might be some swelling around your eye for a few days, but this should go away quickly. If it bothers you, ask your doctor about what medications you can take if necessary to decrease swelling and irritation.
Different Types of Cataract Surgery
There are different types of cataract surgery, and each one takes a slightly different amount of time to perform. Depending on your unique needs, the length of time the surgery will take will vary.
Here are a few things to know about how long cataract surgery takes:
- Phacoemulsification cataract surgery: This cataract surgery takes approximately 20 minutes per eye, although some patients may require more than one session to complete their vision correction goals. The surgeon uses ultrasound waves to break up the cataract and then suctions out its pieces through a small incision on the eye’s surface.
- Extracapsular cataract surgery: Extracapsular extraction (ECCE) involves removing the entire lens intact by cutting a hole in the eye’s natural membrane that surrounds it and then pulling out the lens through this opening. ECCE typically takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete. In some cases, however, it might take longer if scar tissue or other complications prevent the removal of all parts of the lens.
If both of your eyes have cataracts, your surgeon may recommend that they are treated at the same time. This procedure is known as immediate sequential bilateral cataract surgery (ISBCS).
ISBCS is a good option for people at low risk for complications from the surgery, but your surgeon will talk with you about this if it’s something that interests you.
Otherwise, surgeons operate on each eye individually, waiting 6 to 12 weeks in between surgeries.
What Can Impact the Length of the Procedure?
Again, cataract surgery is a procedure that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on your specific circumstances.
Here’s what you should know about what can impact the length of your cataract surgery:
- Your age: Younger patients tend to have shorter procedures than older ones. Older patients may require longer surgeries due to the increased risk of pre-existing eye issues and complications.
- Your health: If you have certain medical conditions or allergies, it could impact how long your procedure takes and what kind of anesthesia you receive during the operation.
- The type of surgery performed: There are several different ways to perform cataract removal, and each comes with different estimated times for completion.
- Your surgeon’s experience level: Some surgeons might be more skilled at performing certain kinds of surgeries than others, which could mean they complete them more quickly than other surgeons might take on similar cases (or vice versa).
- The type of lens you have put in your eye (IOL): Newer lenses can be inserted through small incisions, and the process takes less time than with traditional lenses.
How Long Does It Take to Recover?
During cataract surgery, you may feel some discomfort and pressure in your eye.
After surgery, your eyes will be closed for a while. You may experience mild irritation for several hours as your eyes adjust to being open again after being closed for so long, but this feeling should subside within 24 hours.
Most people who have cataract surgery do not require any special care after their procedure. However, if necessary, they may need to wear an eye patch for a day or two.
You’ll need someone to drive you home and help you for about a week because you won’t be able to drive for at least 24 hours after surgery. As your eyes heal from surgery, your vision may also be blurry for several weeks.
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Cataract Surgery. (February 2021). National Health Service.
The Evolution of Cataract Surgery. (February 2016). Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association.
Immediate Sequential Bilateral Cataract Surgery and Its Relevance in COVID-19 Era. (June 2021). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.
Does Medicare Cover Cataract Surgery Costs in 2022? (October 2022). Forbes.
Last Updated January 10, 2023
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