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LASIK vs. Cataract Surgery: Two Different Procedures to Improve Vision

LASIK and cataract surgery are two successful procedures that can help individuals improve their vision. They are distinctly different surgeries that address different vision issues. 

LASIK corrects refractive errors, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. Oftentimes, people no longer need to wear corrective lenses, such as glasses and contact lenses, following LASIK. 

Cataract surgery involves removing the natural lens of the eye (and the cataract with it) and replacing that lens with an artificial lens. This removes the cloudiness caused by the cataract and restores clear vision.

What Does LASIK Treat?

LASIK is a form of refractive surgery that uses laser technology to reshape the cornea, allowing for clearer vision. 

LASIK is used to correct myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. It boasts incredibly high success rates with low rates of complications and side effects. The vast majority of patients are happy with the results of their LASIK surgery.

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What Does Cataract Surgery Treat?

Cataract surgery involves removing the eye’s natural lens and replacing it with an implant, an artificial lens. Cataracts occur when the eye’s natural lens develops opacification. 

In order to effectively treat a cataract, it has to be removed via surgery. There is no other way to “cure” cataracts.

Cataracts often develop slowly over time, generally over the course of years. While there are other causes, most cases of cataract are due to the natural aging process. Cataracts cause blurred vision, which many individuals describe as looking through a foggy window.

After the natural lens of the eye is removed during cataract surgery, it is replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL). This restores the person’s vision to what it was before the cataract developed.

Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed and successful surgeries.

How Does Each Procedure Work?

While both LASIK and cataract surgery can improve vision, they are very different surgeries. Here is what to expect with each:

LASIK Surgery Details

LASIK is a short, outpatient procedure that is performed at an ophthalmologist’s office or clinic. 

First, your doctor applies eye drops that numb the area before surgery. Next, they place an eyelid holder on the eye to prevent blinking. Generally, patients describe feeling some pressure, much like a finger pressing somewhat firmly on the eyelid. During this stage of the procedure, vision will dim.

The surgeon then applies the laser that has been programmed with the specific measurements of the eye, creating a very thin flap in the cornea (also called a corneal flap). From there, the flap is lifted and folded back. The surgeon will ask the patient to focus on a light target, so the eyes stay in place to optimize the results. 

When the eye surgeon uses the laser, a clicking sound can be heard. The procedure itself only takes a few minutes. Once completed, the corneal flap is folded back down in its regular position while the surgeon smooths the edges. The flap will then heal on its own. 

Cataract Surgery Details

Cataract surgery is also an outpatient procedure and is generally completed in an hour or less.

First, the eye doctor places eye drops in the eye to dilate the pupil. From there, local anesthetics are applied in order to numb the area in question. In some cases, the patient is also given a sedative to help them relax. 

During the surgical procedure, the natural lens is removed. Via phacoemulsification, a surgeon will create a tiny incision in the cornea, inserting a thin probe that breaks up the lens to facilitate removal. In some cases, the lens can be removed in one piece after incision. With a larger incision, stitches may be required.

How Are These Procedures Different? 

These two procedures differ greatly in terms of the procedure, technology, and purpose of the surgery. LASIK addresses the cornea (the outer layer) of the eye, while cataract surgery is performed on the lens of the eye. 

While LASIK is usually done on both eyes in the same surgery, cataract surgery is generally performed on one eye at a time. If the person has cataracts in both eyes, they will usually have a second cataract surgery on the other eye two to six weeks later.

LASIK is not generally covered by insurance, as it is considered a form of elective surgery. Cataract surgery is usually covered by health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid.

Similarities Between LASIK and Cataract Surgery

LASIK and cataract surgery both involve making an incision in the eye. Both procedures require numbing agents, which are applied to the eye to reduce pain and discomfort. 

Both LASIK and cataract surgery can drastically improve long-term vision. Individuals who have either LASIK or cataract surgery often report 20/20 vision or better for distance vision after recovery. 

LASIK and cataract surgery are both considered fast procedures that can be performed in an hour or less. And both procedures have a fast recovery time. Both cataract surgery and LASIK are very common procedures that are widely regarded as safe and effective surgeries. 

Can LASIK & Cataract Surgery Be Done on the Same Eye? 

Cataract surgery can be performed on an eye that has had LASIK, and vice versa.  LASIK and cataract surgery are performed on different areas of the eye — the cornea and the lens. 

It’s most common for someone who has previously had LASIK to later need cataract surgery. If a person needs LASIK to correct a refractive error, they can normally accomplish the same level of vision correction via the placement of an appropriate intraocular lens during cataract surgery. Since a premium lens may be needed, the patient will usually have to pay the difference between a standard and premium lens out of pocket.

In some cases, LASIK may be recommended after cataract surgery to address an astigmatism. Your surgeon will assess your individual candidacy, and they may alter their approach somewhat depending on the effects of either prior surgery.

Are LASIK & Cataract Surgery Ever Performed Simultaneously?

No, LASIK and cataract surgery should not be performed at the same time. If an individual would like to get both surgeries done, it’s important to undergo each operation individually to recover appropriately as well as monitor any vision changes following the procedure. 

Generally, it’s recommended to wait at least a month, but often several months, before getting a second procedure.

References

  1. Prevalence of Refractive Errors Among High School Students in Western Iran. (April 2014). Journal of Ophthalmic & Vision Research.

  2. Real-World Visual Outcomes of Cataract Surgery Based on Population-Based Studies: A Systematic Review. (April 2022). British Journal of Ophthalmology.

  3. Functional Outcome and Patient Satisfaction After Laser In Situ Keratomileusis for Correction of Myopia and Myopic Astigmatism. (March 2015). Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology.

  4. The Evolution of Cataract Surgery. (February 2016). Missouri Medicine: The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association.

  5. A Review of Laser-Assisted Versus Traditional Phacoemulsification Cataract Surgery. (February 2017). Ophthalmology and Therapy

  6. Can Cataract Surgery and LASIK Be Performed at the Same Time? (March 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  7. Cataract Surgery After Refractive Surgery. (April 2017). International Ophthalmology Clinics.

  8. Visual and Refractive Outcomes of Laser Cataract Surgery. (November 2014). Current Opinion in Ophthalmology.

  9. The Effect of LASIK on Timing of Cataract Surgery. (February 2016). Journal of Refractive Surgery.

Last Updated April 5, 2023

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.

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