Is Cataract Surgery Done Under General or Local Anaesthesic?
As with any kind of invasive surgery, the use of anaesthetics is an important factor to consider in Cataract Surgery. However, it can often be overlooked or lost in more immediate concerns that are understandably held by patients anticipating the treatment.
That’s why, in this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about anaesthesia for Cataract Surgery – including whether you will be under general or local anaesthesia during the procedure.
What is Anaesthesia?
Anaesthesia, which means literally “loss of sensation”, refers to a category of medications (called anaesthetics) that are used to numb sensations. This can be applied to specific areas of the body, or to the entire body by inducing sleep.
It is used to prevent patients from feeling pain or discomfort during medical procedures, including Cataract Surgery. The two most common types of anaesthetics are:
- Local Anaesthesia – Where only a specific area of the body is numbed and the patient remains fully conscious. Usually used in minor procedures.
- General Anaesthesia – Where the patient is put to sleep; they are completely unconscious and unaware of the procedure. Used in more serious operations and procedures.
Is Cataract Surgery a Minor or Major Procedure?
Cataract surgery is a routine procedure developed to remove cataracts from the eye. It has become one of the most commonly performed procedures in the UK and many other countries worldwide.
While earlier methods of Cataract treatments had a high-risk profile and low success rate, modern developments mean that Cataract Surgery is highly successful and safer than ever with short operating times. It is therefore considered a minor procedure.
Local Anaesthesia in Cataract Surgery
As a minor procedure, and due to the fact that only a small area of the body – the eye – is affected, Cataract Surgery requires only local anaesthesia. The whole procedure is usually completed in under an hour so patients can remain awake throughout and return home the same day.
In Cataract Surgery, local anaesthetic is applied in the form of an eye drop. This will numb the affected eye for the duration of the procedure to ensure you feel no pain.
In some cases a needle-based eye block may be used in Cataract Surgery. This is a form or local anaesthesia where the anaesthesic is injected into the retrobulbar area (the space behind the eye globe).
How Does Cataract Surgery Work?
Cataracts develop as the proteins in the eyes’ lenses break down and begin to clump together. Over time, this clumping causes the lens to become cloudy, affecting the vision of the eye. While cataracts are a natural part of the eye’s ageing process, surgery will eventually be required to remove the cataract. If left untreated cataracts can lead to blindness.
The primary aim of cataract surgery is simply to remove the cataract; however, an artificial lens is usually implanted to replace the eye’s natural lens. This artificial lens, or intraocular lens (IOL), may have a single focusing power (monofocal), or may be selected to improve existing refractive errors (premium IOLs).
Before the procedure begins, the patient is given anaesthetic eye drops to numb the site of the operation. Once the anaesthesia has taken effect, the surgeon creates a small incision in the surface of the eye (this can be done using either a surgical blade or a laser).
A needle-thin ultrasound probe is then inserted to break up the lens. The tissue can then be removed through the same incision. Once the lens has been removed, the surgeon implants the artificial lens in the lens capsule to keep it in place.
This may be a fixed-focus monofocal, accommodating-focus monofocal, multifocal, or toric (astigmatism correction) IOL, depending on where you have your surgery carried out. For example, Cataract Surgery carried out by the NHS is completed exclusively with monofocal IOLs.