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A Brief History of Cataract Surgery

By David Gross on January 10, 2019


An eye with cataractsCataract surgery can help restore vision, improving the quality of life for many people affected by cataracts.

Cataract surgery is often thought of as a modern treatment, but it's rudimentary beginnings can be traced back to fifth century BC. As technology and the understanding of cataracts and vision have improved, cataract surgery has become highly successful.

The doctors of Deen Gross Eye Centers would like to take a moment to consider the history of cataract surgery, and how patients in Merrillville, IN can benefit from this treatment.

Early Cataract Surgery

One of the first forms of cataract surgery dates back to fifth century BC. The technique was known as couching.

Couching did not remove cataracts. Instead, a tool was used to push a mature cataract away from the primary line of vision.

Couching was performed using a needle, which would be placed within the cataract and the lens of the eye and used to push the cataract aside.

Couching was often instantly successful, however, for most, success was short lived. Eye infections and the retention of cataracts within the eye's lens often led to serious vision problems, including blindness.

The First Cataract Extraction

Couching remained the most common form of treatment for cataracts until the 18th century when French surgeon Jacques Daviel performed the first cataract extraction.

Referred to as extracapsular cataract extraction, Daviel's procedure involved removing the outer layer of the lens by creating a large incision within the eye.

While more effective than couching, Daviel's procedure was successful only about half of the time. Complications after surgery were common and often severe. Issues included infection, poor wound healing, and posterior capsular opacification, or the development of cloudy scar tissue behind the lens.

Improving Cataract Extraction

Daviel's procedure remained the standard for cataract removal until the 19th century with the development of intracapsular cataract extraction, a method in which the entire lens and lens capsule are removed.

Although a technique for intracapsular cataract extraction was developed in the mid 1700s, it did not become common until 1957, when surgeon Joaquin Barraquer used an enzyme to dissolve the fibers holding the eye's lens in place before removing the lens.

As sterilization techniques and anesthetics improved, intracapsular cataract extraction became more popular. Unfortunately, this form of cataract surgery has many drawbacks, such as an increased risk of blindness, retinal detachment, and macular edema.

Modern Cataract Surgery

As technology and surgical techniques improved, extracapsular cataract extraction techniques began to yield better results than intracapsular cataract extraction, making it one of the standards for treating cataracts.

A new approach to cataract surgery was introduced in 1967 by American ophthalmologist Charles Kelman. Kelman is credited with created a technique called phacoemulsification. This technique uses ultrasound and a needle to break apart the lens and remove the pieces through a small incision.

Modern phacoemulsification methods include the use of topical anesthetics to keep the patient comfortable and sterilization techniques to reduce the risk of infection. After the lens is removed, an artificial intraoclular lens (IOL) is placed to help restore vision.

In addition to improved sterilization practices, phacoemulsification has faster healing times than previous treatments and improved results.

Find Out if Cataract Surgery Is Right for You

If you have cataracts, treatment is available to help improve your vision. To find out if cataract surgery is right for you, or to learn about other treatment options, we invite you to call (219) 769-8989. Our friendly staff are happy to schedule a consultation for you.

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