Lightning Fast Laser for Cataracts

The lens of the eye helps us focus, but as we age cataracts can develop.

More than 22 million Americans over the age of forty have cataracts and that number is expected to rise by 50 percent in the next decade.

Now, a new high tech laser is giving patients a new option to get their sight back.

Reading on her new kindle would have been nearly impossible for Peggy Nardi last year.

"It was difficult. Even with the glasses," Peggy told Ivanhoe.

Her cataracts made it tough to see.

"That's the part that turns cloudy," Dennis L. Kilpatrick, MD, Medical Director at Scottsdale Eye Physicians & Surgeons, PC, told Ivanhoe.

She opted for a new option in cataract surgery that's being hailed the biggest advancement in 30 years.

"This is a tremendous breakthrough," Dr. Kilpatrick said.

Instead of cutting the cataract out with blades, surgeons use the femtosecond laser.

"The machine will make incisions in both the cornea and the lens itself," Dr. Kilpatrick explained.

It uses high energy pulses.

"The duration of the pulse is what gives it the name Femtosecond. You might have heard of a nanosecond, that's one-billionth of a second, but a femtosecond is actually one-millionth of a nanosecond," Dr. Kilpatrick said.

The bladeless approach improves safety for patients, cuts recovery time, and gives doctors a new level of precision.

"It's something no surgeon, no matter how good they are, can do with their free hand, not as well as the laser," Dr. Kilpatrick said.

"Color, color is fantastic," Peggy said.

For Peggy, it means seeing a brighter future with her great-granddaughter.

"I'm happy, happy, happy with it," Peggy said.

Femtosecond laser cataract surgery uses similar technology to Lasik and can also be used to fix astigmatism in cataract patients. It is FDA approved. The doctor says most of his patients feel their vision is much better about two weeks after standard cataract surgery. With the femtosecond laser, it's more like one week.

BACKGROUND: For people who have cataracts, it's like they are looking through a fogged-up or frosty window.  Cloudy vision makes driving at night, reading, and seeing facial expressions very difficult.   Cataracts usually develop slowly and don't disrupt eyesight early on. When cataracts first develop, stronger lighting and eyeglasses are needed to help patients deal with it.  Surgery is recommended if it begins to interfere with patients' usual activities.  Most cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the tissue that makes up the eye's lens.  However, some can be a consequence from inherited genetic disorders that cause other health problems.  (Source:
HOW A CATARACT FORMS:  Cataracts are formed on the lens.  The lens is behind the colored part of the eye.  It focuses light that passes into the eye, producing sharp, clear images on the retina, which is the light-sensitive membrane on the back inside wall of the eyeball that acts like the film of a camera.  A cataract scatters the light when it passes through the lens, resulting in blurry vision.  Aging makes the lenses become less flexible, thicker, and less transparent.  Age-related changes to the lens will cause tissue to break down and clump together, clouding areas of the lens.  When the cataract continues to develop, the clouding becomes denser. (Source:

TYPES:  There are three types of cataracts:
 Cataracts that affect the back of the lens (posterior subscapular cataracts).  It starts as a small, opaque area and interferes with reading vision.
 Cataracts that affect the edges of the lens (cortical cataracts).  It begins as whitish, wedge-shaped streaks on the outer edge of the lens cortex.
 Cataracts you're born with (congenital cataracts).  Some people develop cataracts early or are born with them.  Such cataracts could be a result form inherited diseases or a mother having an infection during pregnancy. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Cataract removal entails removing the cloudy natural Crystalline Lens of the eye using a technique called phacoemulsification.  It requires many manual steps.  In order to have a more precise procedure, doctors are using what is called femtosecond lasers. The femtosecond laser has already been successful for a number of years in laser eye surgery for the laser vision correction of common vision disorders like astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness.  The advantage of using femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery is that it allows the conversion and consolidation of the many skill intensive steps of cataract removal into a more predictable procedure.  Surgeons believe the femtosecond laser will be useful for: creating "perfect" incisions in size and architecture, an important step to have the incision seal properly without stitches; creating a perfectly centered and sized "capsulotomy," which is the opening prepared in the front of the Crystalline Lens through which the cloudy material is removed; liquefying and softening of "chopping" the Crystalline Lens in order to allow the cloudy material to be removed; and creating the possibility of precise corneal incisions.  LenSx Lasers, Inc. has received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to market the first generation of femtosecond laser for cataract surgery in the United States. (Source:

Dennis L. Kilpatrick, MD
Medical Director
Scottsdale Eye Physicians & Surgeons, PC 

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