Differences Between Laser Cataract Surgery and Traditional Cataract Surgery

patient with cataract

With one in three Americans needing cataract surgery in his or her lifetime, it is estimated that 1.5 million cataract surgeries are completed in the United States each year. Fortunately, with advancements in medical technology, cataract surgery is now more effective and safer than ever before.

Cataracts are an eye disorder associated with aging. They occur when the lens inside the eye becomes clouded, which causes vision loss that cannot be restored using contact lenses or glasses.

Both traditional and laser-assisted cataract surgeries work to reverse the cataract process by removing the clouded natural lens of the eye. After the unhealthy lens is removed, an artificial lens, known as an IOL, is implanted in the eye. Today, we will explore the major differences between laser cataract surgery and traditional cataract surgery.


How is Traditional Cataract Surgery Performed?

Traditional cataract surgery also referred to as phacoemulsification, is performed by hand with a scalpel blade. During traditional cataract surgery, our Ophthalmologist will need to make a small incision in the side of the cornea with the scalpel.

Next, a small device is inserted through the incision to the area behind the pupil to reach the eye’s lens. The instrument is then used to make a circular opening over the lens capsule. Then, we will use a special ultrasound probe to break the clouded lens up into particles that are easier to remove.

These pieces of the lens are then suctioned from the eye, and a permanent intraocular lens (IOL) replaces the natural lens. Traditional cataract surgery has effectively healed countless cataract patients. Thus, it is widely accepted as a popular technique for treating cataracts. At the same time, the use of a hand-held blade provides a wider margin of error than laser-assisted cataract surgery.

How is Laser-assisted Cataract Surgery Performed?

During laser-assisted cataract surgery, we use a state-of-the-art ultrasound imaging device to map the lens of the eye. This detailed imaging is then sent to a program that pinpoints the precise location, size, and depth of incision needed for the most effective cataract surgery. Then, using a femtosecond laser, similar to the lasers used during LASIK surgery, we are able to create a corneal incision that opens the capsule of the lens.

Next, energy from the laser is used to weaken the cataract. Similar to traditional cataract surgery, an ultrasound device is then used to bust the lens into smaller pieces which are then suctioned from the eye. Then, we will replace the lens with an artificial lens, carefully choosing the best intraocular lens (IOL) for your unique eye health.
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Benefits of Laser Cataract Surgery

There are many reasons Ophthalmologists recommend laser cataract surgery over traditional treatments. Most researchers have found that laser softening of the cataract provides a safer and easier cataract removal. Below are some additional advantages provided by laser cataract surgery:

  • Laser cataract surgery uses less energy. According to a study by William Culbertson, MD, when compared to traditional cataract surgery, laser-assisted surgery required less energy. For example, patients undergoing laser-assisted treatment needed 45% less ultrasound energy in comparison to conventional cataract treatments. Furthermore, Ophthalmologist required 45% fewer movements for patients who underwent laser pre-treatment compared to traditional treatment.​​​​​​​


  • Laser cataract surgery causes less cell damage. Endothelial cells are a gauge that can help Ophthalmologist’s measure a patient’s eye health. These specific type of cells preserve the cornea and cannot be regenerated. One study found that patient who underwent laser fragmentation saw no loss of endothelial cells, in comparison to the 1-7% of cell loss seen in those who received traditional cataract treatments.​​​​​​​

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  • More precise incisions. As we mentioned earlier, laser-assisted incisions can be much more precise than a hand-made incision. A more consistent incision reduces the likelihood of the lens shifting after placement.




Before recommending laser cataract surgery or traditional cataract surgery to a patient, we will need to evaluate your candidacy during an initial consultation. During your consultation, we will help you decide which surgical option is best for you based on your expectations, goals, and overall eye health. To learn more about which surgery will be better for your health and well-being, schedule a consultation with Sonny Goel, M.D. today at 410-377-2044.