At Focal Point Vision, our ophthalmologists, or eye surgeons, are fellowship-trained and perform both cataract and LASIK surgery. Often during the discussion of cataract surgery, a patient asks, “are you going to be doing LASIK on my eyes? What is the difference between cataract surgery and LASIK?”
Essentially, cataract surgery involves removal of the lens and placement of an artificial lens while LASIK involves reshaping of the cornea.
Before we discuss the nuances of each procedure, it is important to review the basic anatomy of the eye. As you can see in the picture below, the cornea is the clear, spherical “front” of the eye, analogous to the windshield of the car. Behind the cornea is the iris, or colored part of the eye that can open and close depending on the amount of ambient light, and behind the iris is the lens. The cornea and lens focus light to land on the retina, which works like the film in a camera, changing light into nerve impulses that travel to the brain. Thus, we’re born with a clear crystalline lens that works very well when we are young, expanding and contracting to see both far and near without reading glasses. Around the age of 45, the lens becomes more rigid and harder to flex, necessitating reading glasses. As the number of birthday candles increases, the lens gets more rigid and cloudy, and when it becomes mostly cloudy, we call it a cataract. Cataract surgery is an exchange of the cloudy, dysfunctional natural lens with an artificial lens made of acrylic.
On the other hand, LASIK is eye surgery in which we use a laser to reshape the cornea and eliminate the need for glasses or contacts.
Again, cataract surgery involves the exchange of the lens, while LASIK involves reshaping the cornea. Both procedures can change somebody’s refractive error, or “prescription,” and lessen the need for reading glasses.
LASIK is commonly performed in patients between the age of 20 – 40, while cataract surgery is more often performed in patients above the age of 55.
Over the past few years, we have started to use a LASIK femtosecond laser at the time of cataract surgery to make incisions, divide the cataract, and treat astigmatism. This is called “laser cataract surgery,” and we will address this in future posts. Thanks! James Lehmann, MD.