The idea of cataract removal is not new. As early as the sixth century BC, there are texts describing couching, a method of using needles to manually remove cataracts. The procedure was considered only acceptable if absolutely necessary and it is likely that many of the patients either lost their vision or died from post-operative infections. Word of this method spread to Greece, the Middle East and China.
When looking at European history, bronze tools that may have been used for similar purposes have been located in archaeological sites in Babylonia, Greece and Egypt. The first references to treating cataracts by couching have been found in Latin books from 29AD. Through the Middle Ages, couching was practiced around the world. Even today, some parts of Africa still practice couching, despite being unsafe and unlikely to succeed.
Patients who developed cataracts in the 20th century fared far better. Harold Ridley invented a replacement lens in the 1940’s. This implant permitted an easier, more comfortable recovery time and improved post-surgical vision.
The conventional surgical method of removing cataracts, extracapsular cataract surgery, was practiced in hospitals for many years. This invasive procedure involved large incisions to remove the damaged tissue before replacing it with a man-made lens. After the surgery was complete, stitches were required in order to heal properly. While the prognosis was far more hopeful than at any other time in history, the surgery was expensive, painful and had a long recovery time.
Phacoemulsification was another option made available to cataract sufferers. This method uses ultrasound waves to disintegrate the center of the damaged lens. By creating a small incision, it is possible to use a small suctioning tool to remove the contents of the lens. This is either replaced with fluid or a manmade lens. The replacement lenses have folding and more rigid options available and can be used to correct vision at the same time. This procedure was revolutionary, eliminating the need for hospital stays. Once this procedure became ambulatory, it became far more affordable. It also was instrumental in reducing the pain and recovery time.
The latest breakthrough in cataract treatment involves laser technology. Once only the stuff of science fiction, laser surgery is now commonplace and more reasonably priced. Even in the last decade, the equipment has been improved upon and the technicians more skilled. The cutting edge technology affords the opportunity for the doctors to achieve unmatched accuracy. The incision sizes have gone from over one centimeter, requiring stitches to heal properly, to cuts small enough to be able to heal without sutures. Additionally, lasers have replaced the ultrasonic tool for breaking up the center of the lens, permitting it to be removed more easily. Lastly, the incisions made by a laser create a wound that seals more securely, lowering the chances of post-operative infections.
Constant improvements to the technology have led patients to expect fantastic results, and rightly so. The latest innovations in laser technology include LenSx’s state of the art femtosecond laser, the first to ever receive FDA approval for eye surgery. This equipment gives micron precision. With a three dimensional computerized interface, the surgeon is able to perform each of the steps of the surgery before even creating the first incision. Using a tiny laser permits the incisions to be thinner with uniformly smooth edges to prevent tearing.
Patients are walking out of eye care clinics with clear vision and minimal discomfort. Long term studies on laser eye surgery have been able to confirm what the doctors suspected all along. Laser eye surgery is more effective, has fewer risks and is more affordable. Costs of LASER Cataract Surgery