How Science Saves Our Eyes: an Evolution of Cataract Surgery

Many cataract surgeries are performed all over the world, every single day. Considering the skill and technology used in surgery today, it might surprise some people to know that that cataract surgery has been around for thousands of years. This guide will help you learn more about the development one this highly sophisticated procedure.

What does Cataract Surgery Look Like Today?

Today, cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed procedures across the world. A surgeon removes a cataract lens and replaces it with a special implant. The procedure can be completed in less than 30 minutes.

The Start of Cataract Surgery

One of the earliest forms of cataract surgery is known as “couching,” and it dates back to the 5th century. A physician performing couching would dislodge a developed cataract with the use of a needle. Although this method would not remove the cataract from the eye, it would instantly improve a person’s vision as the cataract would no longer be blocking the light to the eye. Unfortunately, the initial success of this procedure was short-lived. It was common for a person’s condition to worsen after the procedure, and some people even went completely blind.

Extracapsular Cataract Surgery

There is some dispute about when extracapsular cataract surgery was first practiced, with some people believing it was used in India during the 7th century. This method became common practice across the world in the 18th century. The procedure involved making a large incision in the cornea, puncturing the lens capsule, and then extracting the lens cortex. This procedure was much more successful than the couching method, usually resulting in a successful recovery for about 50% of patients. However, post-surgery complications were common and would have a considerable effect. Complications included poor wound healing and infections, among other issues.

Intracapsular Cataract Extraction

The earliest documented example of an intracapsular cataract extraction performance dates back to 1753, credited to an English surgeon called Samuel Sharp. This procedure involves removing the opacified lens and the surrounding capsule. The exact techniques used differed throughout the world; however, the results were usually pretty similar. Removing the lens and capsule required a surgeon to make a large incision, resulting in a longer healing time and a higher infection rate. Since the lens capsule acted as a barrier between the anterior and posterior chambers, its detachment would commonly cause several further complications in the patients’ vision.

Intraocular Lenses

One of the important developments in cataract surgery was thanks to the creation of intraocular lenses by Sir Harold Ridley in 1949. Before this method was created, patients would be aphakic (without lens) after cataract surgery. This would mean that although the patient’s vision was no longer cloudy, it would still remain poor due to the absence of a lens. Sir Harold Ridley was the first person to successfully develop an intraocular lens, a technique that marks the foundation to the type of cataract surgery that is being performed today.