It’s easy to take for granted some of the advanced medical treatments available today. As an ophthalmologist in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina who specializes in LASIK and refractive cataract surgery, I find it fascinating to look back on what was once considered “state-of-the-art” eye care.
Cataract surgery continues to improve, and surgical innovations pioneered in the past couple of decades have made the procedure better and safer than ever. Putting those innovations in context requires looking back at the history of cataract surgery to appreciate today’s technology.
Some noteworthy milestones include:
- The ancient method of treating cataracts was called “couching,” a technique that used a blunt instrument to essentially push the cataract lens back into the deeper chamber of the eye. As you might expect, couched eyes had much poorer vision postoperatively, and the technique didn’t do much to avoid complications.
- In 1748, French ophthalmologist Jacques Daviel performed the first official surgical removal of a cataract in Paris. The patients who could benefit were limited to those individuals with so-called “ripe lenses” (i.e., only the most advanced cataract cases) because these early surgical techniques required removing the entire lens in one piece.
- The introduction of phacoemulsification surgery in 1967 by Dr. Charles Kelman revolutionized cataract surgery. The technique enabled surgeons to break the lens into tiny fragments (without removing the lens capsule), leading to smaller and smaller incisions.
- Advanced cataract surgery technology introduced in the past few decades includes laser cataract surgery and foldable lens materials, which offer even greater precision and the ability to insert a new lens into an opening as small as 2 millimeters.
These surgical advances not only lead to better outcomes, but also enhance the lifestyles of patients by giving them clearer vision than ever. There is also a range of choices available to patients, with lens options to correct astigmatism and, in some cases, even eliminate their need for glasses.