Cataract surgery is a common part of routine eye care for many ophthalmologists. Every year, tens of thousands of cataract surgery procedures are performed around the world. This has resulted in cataract surgeons being able to determine the various factors that play a part in just how efficiently they are able to perform this operation. So, how long does cataract surgery take and what do you need to know about the influencing factors? Keep reading to find out.
How Long Does Cataract Surgery Take?
For an uncomplicated cataract surgery operation, the procedure can take as little as 15 minutes per eye spent on the operating table. However, some cataract operations may extend in excess of half an hour if the case is particularly challenging or if unexpected complications arise. If counting from the moment you step into the clinic, preparing the eye for surgery, the cataract extraction itself, and recovery afterwards until you go home, you may find yourself spending about 2 to 3 hours in the clinic.
Although all medical professionals aim to control as many factors as possible, it’s not always possible to predict what might go wrong. When it comes to cataract surgery, the complication rate sits around 2% in Australia, which is considered quite low. In general, cataract surgery is known to be a safe and effective medical procedure.
There are several influencing factors identified by research that have the potential to impact on your cataract surgery duration.
Until cataract surgery becomes fully performed by robots (if ever), the skill and expertise of your attending cataract surgeon will always play a part when you’re wondering how long does cataract surgery take. It stands to reason that the more cataract surgery operations an eye care specialist has performed over his or her career, the more efficient and speedier he or she will be. When assessing the operating times of different grades of eye surgeons, one study found that junior ophthalmologists demonstrated a range of times between 19 to 41 minutes. However, the most senior and experienced eye specialists (ophthalmology consultants), were able to complete a cataract extraction in a much shorter time of 9 to 29 minutes.
Complications during surgery
Although cataract surgery is generally considered a safe procedure, any eye care operation carries a risk of complications or adverse effects. A more experienced cataract surgeon may be able to predict a potential complication and take the appropriate precautions. However, unexpected events can occur, even in the hands of the most experienced specialists. Challenging cataract procedures can prolong surgery time due to the need for further interventions or because the surgeon needs to move more carefully. The complexity and risk of complication of a cataract operation can be influenced by:
- Older age
- The presence of diabetes
- The presence of other eye conditions or diseases
- If you are taking certain medications
- If another eye care procedure needs to be performed at the same time as the cataract extraction
- The presence of long-sightedness (hyperopia)
- The state of the cataract
If any of these factors apply to you, remember that it simply increases your risk of complication. It does not mean it will result in an adverse outcome or prolonged surgery time with certainty.
In most cases, cataract surgery is not performed with general anaesthesia. However, for patients with a special need to be fully anaesthetised, such as in the case of mental impairment or an inability to lie still on the operating table, it may be offered. For other routine cases, either a topical anaesthetic eye drop is administered or a local anaesthetic injection around the eye. Studies have found that cataract procedures involving topical anaesthetic eye drops tend to have shorter operating times compared to those using a local anaesthetic injection.
Size of your pupils
Another factor influencing cataract operation duration is the pupil size of the patient, which refers to the hole in the middle of your coloured iris. Because the cataract sits behind the iris, the eye surgeon must access it via the aperture of the pupil. Dilating eye drops are routinely used to widen this pupil.
However, in some people, pharmaceutical means of dilating the pupil is not always sufficient for the surgeon to effectively perform the cataract extraction. In such situations, another device is needed to widen the pupil, such as iris hooks, rings, or expanders. The specific technique your surgeon uses can influence the length of the operation; for example, dilating the pupil with a ring is typically faster compared to using an iris hook.
Reducing Your Procedure Time
Just as many factors during surgery are out of control of your eye surgeon, various factors (such as your age or having diabetes), are out of your control, too. However, you may consider taking a few steps before you enter the operating theatre to reduce your risk of complications and chance of blowing out the operation time.
- Disclose your full medical history. If your surgeon is aware of all full medical history, they can more easily identify any potential risk factors for complications.
- Adhere to any pre-operative instructions or treatments. Your surgeon may recommend certain treatments, such as lid hygiene or eye drops, before your operation.
- Choose a more experienced cataract surgeon.
Call us today on 03 9000 0389 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.