Surgery – How is a cataract operation performed?

Having cataracts removed is one of the safest surgeries that you can undergo. It’s also the most common operation performed in the UK, today, with around 400,000 procedures carried out per year in the UK(1).

During cataract surgery, the eye’s natural lens – which has become clouded, impairing the patient’s vision – is removed, and replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL).

A cataract operation is usually performed using a quick and simple process called phacoemulsification, where the surgeon makes a small incision in the eye and inserts a high frequency ultrasound device into the incision, to break the clouded lens into small pieces which can then be removed.

Once the cataracted lens has been removed, the surgeon will insert an IOL in place of the natural lens that has been removed and close the incision. A transparent protective shield is then placed over the eye to stop anything like dust, or grit getting into the eye whilst it heals.

Cataract surgery isn’t painful as it’s carried out under local anaesthetic. However, there is no need to worry about needles, because the anaesthetic is administered using eye drops.

The operation is generally carried out without the necessity for an overnight stay in hospital, on an outpatient basis. You’ll likely be in the hospital for a couple of hours, to ensure your eye is properly dilated and the anaesthetic has kicked in, prior to the surgery and that you have had a post-operative assessment following the procedure. The removal of the cataract itself will usually only take around 5-10 minutes.

Once you’ve had the operation, the healing process will usually take around 4 weeks.



  1. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists: RCOphth follow up survey finds continued cataract rationing imposed by CCGs despite NICE Guidance

Other related questions

  • Glasses – Why do I need glasses after cataract surgery?

  • Surgery – What does an eye look like after cataract surgery?

  • Near-sighted – Does cataract surgery correct near-sightedness?

  • Surgery – Can you see during cataract surgery?

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