What to Know About Laser Cataract Surgery

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on August 25, 2022
4 min read

Vision aids like corrective glasses and contact lenses are a common way for people with vision problems to see more clearly. However, more serious problems could also require eye surgery. 

Cataracts aren’t just regular vision issues like far or nearsightedness. Cataracts are cloudy spots on the eye’s lens that usually affect older people. They impair your vision and can become more serious with time. If left untreated, they can cause partial or full blindness. 

Cataract surgery is recommended for most people who suffer from cataracts. It can remove the cloudy cataract and help you to see well again. Laser cataract surgery is a newer method that can yield better, more precise results than conventional methods of cataract surgery. 

In traditional cataract surgery, a surgeon will make a small incision in the eye with a blade or scalpel. Then, a circular cut is performed on the eye’s lens. The cataract is broken up using waves from an ultrasound machine. Finally, a new custom lens is implanted into the eye. 

If you choose to undergo laser cataract surgery, the laser will replace most of the other equipment. Under the surgeon's guidance, it will expertly produce a small cut in the eye and cut a perfect circle in the lens. The laser then crumbles the cloudy cataract into tiny pieces that are removed with the ultrasound machine. 

Laser cataract surgery has a high success rate and is considered a very safe procedure. 

Why do some people choose to go with laser surgery instead of traditional methods? There are some significant benefits. 

  1. 3D eye mapping. A laser will make a map of your eye before the surgery, showing the surgeon the makeup of your eye and exactly where the incisions must be made. 
  2. It’s more precise and consistent. Even if a surgeon using a scalpel is very skilled, the laser will make a more accurate circle in the lens of the eye above the cataract. This will be especially useful when the patient needs another lens implanted to correct vision. The accuracy of the circle cut will make implanting the lens much easier. 
  3. It makes a more accurate incision in difficult cases. Cataracts worsen over time. If the cataract is very dense, a surgeon using the traditional method could face challenges when making the incision. 
  4. Reduces downtime. The laser will break up and soften cloudy cataracts after the circular incision has been made. This takes less energy than using an ultrasound in traditional cataract surgery. That usually means less swelling and a faster recovery. 
  5. Astigmatism correction. Astigmatism is a common condition where your vision can become distorted. This is due to a misshapen part of your outer eye called the cornea. Minor cases of astigmatism can be corrected when you undergo laser cataract surgery. 
  6. You might not need glasses afterward. The lens implanted in your eye can help correct any vision issues you’ve been struggling with. It can also be tailored to your lifestyle and how you want your vision to be. That, combined with astigmatism correction, could mean you’d be glasses-free. Check with your doctor to see if this could be an option for you. 

Wondering what to expect on the day of the surgery? Expect the whole process to last 3 to 4 hours from check-in to discharge. The procedure itself takes less than 30 minutes. Most people are awake for the surgery, but they are given medicine to help them relax. 

First, the eyes are dilated using medication. This usually comes in the form of eye drops. Dilation makes it easier to use 3D mapping and for the surgeon to examine all parts of your eye. 

One eye is operated on at a time. The eye is numbed for the surgery, so you won’t feel anything. You will probably see the flashing lights of the laser and feel mild pressure. Some people don’t feel anything at all. 

After the surgery is complete, dark protective glasses will be placed over your eyes, and you’ll be transferred to a recovery area. 

Before discharge, you will be examined by a nurse or doctor who will check your vital signs, including: 

  • Blood pressure
  • Temperature
  • Pulse
  • Breathing (respiratory rate)

Most people can go home shortly after the surgery. Your doctor may tell you to rest and recover for a few days after the surgery, though, and prescribe medication to help you manage any pain. 

It’s normal to have blurry vision for two days following the surgery. Some people, though, can see clearly immediately after. Overall, recovery time only takes a few days. 

Your doctor will give you instructions on how to take care of yourself after the surgery and will likely recommend no strenuous activities. Follow-up appointments will tell your doctor if everything is progressing as it should. 

As with most medical procedures, you can experience side effects with laser cataract surgery. The most common side effects are: 

  • Itching
  • Mild discomfort
  • Slight swelling inside the eye

Sometimes, you can experience additional adverse effects from cataract surgery, so make sure to contact your doctor immediately if you notice any of the following side effects after surgery: 

  • Intense pain that doesn’t get better with medicine or time 
  • Loss of vision
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Flashes of light or “dots” in your vision
  • Eye redness that worsens with time

Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of undergoing laser cataract surgery in your particular case. 

Laser cataract surgery costs can vary from state to state. The cost can range from $3,500 to $7,000 per eye. 

Insurance may help cover that amount, though. Unfortunately, most plans will cover a bigger portion of the cost of traditional cataract surgery than laser surgery. Some don’t cover laser surgery at all. That can mean you’d have to pay more out of pocket. 

It’s best to check with your insurance plan, then find a reputable surgeon to get an exact cost.