History of Cataract Surgery

By Francis Clark M.D. on January 02, 2019

Up close photo of man with cataractPatients suffering from cataracts can undergo cataract surgery to restore their vision. This treatment is one of the most common eye procedures performed today. It may surprise you to learn that cataract removal has been around for a long time, though we have come a long way since it was first performed.

At Ophthalmology Physicians & Surgeons in Philadelphia, PA, Dr. Francis J. Clark and our team explore the history of cataract surgery.

Couching: Cataract Surgery in the Ancient World

It is difficult to imagine that ancient physicians would perform cataract surgery, especially since anesthesia had not been invented yet.

However, in the interest of restoring clouded vision, couching was performed. This procedure involved using a lancet to push the damaged lens back into the eye. Evidence of this technique dates back 4,000 years, back to the ancient Egyptians.

Ancient Cataract Extraction

Couching was not the only method used to remove cataracts. In the 2nd century, a Greek physician actually removed the clouded lens from the eye.

To do this, a hollow bronze instrument was inserted into the eye, and the lens was removed with suction.

The First Cataract Extraction Surgery

The methods invented in the ancient world were used for centuries. It was not until the first cataract extraction surgery was performed in 1748 by French ophthalmologist Jacques Daviel that the couching technique declined in popularity.

20th Century Advances

In the mid-1900s, the use of an intraocular lens was introduced during cataract surgery. Using a material called polymethyl methacylate, Dr. Harold Ridley attempted to replace inner eye lenses in cataract patients.

Though these efforts were unsuccessful for the most part, Ridley introduced the idea of lens replacement, a method that changed the course of history.

1967: Innovative Technology

A process known as phacoemulsification was developed by Dr. Charles Kelman in 1967. This technique used ultrasonic vibrations to break cataracts into smaller segments.

Once this step was complete, the particles were removed with a small probe. While this procedure was helpful for removing cataracts, doctors still needed a way to effectively replace the lens.

1978: The First Lens Implant

Dr. Kai-yi Zhou placed the first foldable eye implant in 1978. Crafted from silicone, this device could be rolled or folded up, which made insertion through smaller openings possible.

1986: Laser Ablation

One of the most important discoveries in the field of ophthalmology was made by Dr. Patricia Bath in 1986. She invented the laserphaco probe, which used light energy to ablate and remove cataracts.

This treatment was revolutionary and helped Dr. Bath restore vision in patients who had been blind for more than three decades.

Modern Cataract Surgery

Today, over 25 million Americans suffer from cataracts. Fortunately, due to the research and developments of those who came before us, we now have lenses that offer a 98 percent success rate.

Contact Our Practice to Learn More

If your vision is clouded due to cataracts, our team can help improve your quality of life. To learn more about cataract surgery, schedule a visit at one of our six locations.

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