What Is the Difference Between Traditional & Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery?

A common cause of blurry vision, associated with age related changes in the human eye, is the development of cataracts. Typically, the clear and flexible natural lens focuses light rays onto the retina, which then transforms these rays into electrical signals that travel to the brain to produce precise visual images. Unfortunately, over time the natural lens can gradually lose transparency as its proteins and fibers break down and bind together. As the lens becomes increasingly cloudy and becomes a cataract, less light reaches the retina, resulting in the loss of visual clarity.

Most People Eventually Need Cataract Surgery

Mild visual impairment caused by early cataracts can often be corrected by updating the prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses. It may also be helpful to increase the lighting when performing specific tasks, such as reading and cooking. However, as cataracts worsen with time, these tactics become less beneficial. Most people eventually need surgery to restore the vision lost to cataract progression.

Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure whereby the ophthalmic surgeon (ophthalmologist) removes the now cloudy natural lens and replaces it with a clear artificial intraocular lens (IOL). This lens choice is customized to achieve the patient’s desired visual outcome. For some, that may be to make the distance vision without glasses as crisp as possible. For others, it may be sharp near vision that is most important. And for certain patients, a lens implant may be chosen to optimize a range of vision, including distance, intermediate (computer), and near vision, resulting in a minimal need for glasses for some, if not all, activities.

Cataract Surgery Continues to Evolve

Cataract surgery continues to be one of the safest and most commonly performed medical procedures both in the United States and worldwide. In the late 1980s, phacoemulsification became the preferred method to remove cataracts, using ultrasound energy through a small incision to perform the procedure. This technique progressively gained popularity and remains the cornerstone of modern-day cataract extraction.

As technology continued to advance laser-assisted cataract surgery came to prominence, and in 2010 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first femtosecond laser for use in cataract surgery, taking an already highly successful surgical procedure to the next level.

What Is FLACS?

Femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery (FLACS) differs from traditional cataract surgery in that the ophthalmic surgeon performs specific steps of the procedure with the assistance of the femtosecond laser. Initially, the surgeon docks the patient’s eye to the machine and utilizes an advanced imaging device to map the ocular surface and internal anatomy in real-time. Using this data, the surgeon then programs the laser to execute exact procedural instructions in performance of the initial steps of the cataract procedure.

When operating with laser assistance, the surgeon can achieve heightened precision in:

  • Creating a perfectly round opening in the lens capsule to initiate removal of the cataract
  • Softening and breaking up the cataract into small pieces, thus reducing the amount of energy needed to remove the cataract
  • Making incisions in the cornea to correct astigmatism, helping to achieve the best possible visual acuity

In most cases, FLACS allows for a more precise lens placement, leading to a more accuracy in achieving the desired visual outcome for the patient. Many ophthalmic surgeons who perform FLACS report that the advantages are especially apparent when using advanced technology, premium lens implants, such as presbyopia-correcting multifocal and extended-depth-of-focus (EDOF) IOLs.

Of course, FLACS is no different from traditional cataract surgery in that the attention to detail in preoperative examination and testing, along with the experience and skill of the eye surgeon, is paramount to achieving the best possible outcome.

Talk with an Ophthalmic Surgeon

If you or a loved one are interested in a cataract surgery consultation, please reach out to Florida Medical Clinic Eye Specialists at 813-284-2323 to schedule an appointment at our convenient location in North Tampa.

About Mark L. Arey, MD

Dr. Mark Arey is a board-certified ophthalmologist specializing in comprehensive ophthalmology. In addition, he performs premium cataract surgery utilizing femtosecond laser and advanced technology intraocular lenses. Committed to helping his patients benefit from the latest advances in ophthalmic surgical care, he was the first ophthalmologist to bring femtosecond laser technology in cataract surgery to North Tampa. Dr. Arey is honored and humbled to have once again been chosen by his peers as a Tampa Magazine “Top Doc” in ophthalmology for 2022 in their annual survey of Tampa Bay physicians.



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