Phacoemulsification ( Phaco = lens, emulsification) or phaco as it is popularly called is a technique where the lens is broken into small pieces , emulsified and then aspirated.
The ultrasound energy is used to emulsify the cataract. A handpiece with quartz crystals is used to produce the ultrasonic energy which moves the tip of 0.9 to 1.4 mm size back and forth to hit and emulsify the cataract.
The whole procedure is performed through an incision size of 3.2 mm in the form of a self sealing tunnel which does not require any stitches for its closure. The "phaco probe" has both irrigation and aspiration through the 3.2 mm and a continuous flow of a balanced fluid goes into the eye and is aspirated out along with emulsified pieces of cataract.
The lens has a nucleus in the center, surrounded by epinucleus and then cortex with "capsule" around it and a continuous round hole of approximately 5-6mm (the CCC or Continuous curvilinear CAPSULORRHEXIS) is made so that the phaco tip can directly come into contact with the nucleus to emulsify it.
Anaesthetic eye drops are used prior to the procedure to numb the eye. Sometimes a diluted 1% lidocaine is irrigated into the anterior part of the eye to numb the sensitive iris in case the phaco tip touches it.
Since phaco is a short time painless procedure and there is very little handling of the eye, this no-injection eye drop anaesthesia is enough for a total comfort of the patient. One should also remember that eye drop anaesthesia is safer than injection which can cause complications like drug reaction and peforation of the eye.
Phacoemulsification is done with a thin probe which can enter the eye through a 3.2 mm incision. This incision is made in such a manner that a small tunnel is formed with a length of approximately 2.5 mm. The configuration of the tunnel is such that it closes when the eye pressure is increased and so does not need any stitch to keep it closed.
Today the life style of every person is such that eyes are used extensively for reading/writing/driving during day and night/ watching television etc. and cataract surgery has become very patient friendly. The recovery is quick and discomfort is minimal. Also as the cataract "matures" , it becomes harder and difficult to emulsify with phacoemulsification.
It is therefore, advisable to get the phco-cataract surgery done as early as possible. Definitely when the person is able to read the top letter indicating cataract is sufficiently ready for operation.
It is advisable to maintain proper hygiene and cleanliness. No cosmetics should be used on the eye or face. There are no dietary restrictions required before or after cataract operation. Dietary restrictions for other systemic diseases should be observed. Splashing water in the eye to wash it is not to be done. Face can be washed and head bath can be taken with the eyes closed.
Control of blood sugar is essential. A post prandial blood sugar level of up to 180 mg % should be maintained before and after cataract operation.
Blood pressure control should be maintained with appropriate medications before/ during and after surgery.
Other diseases like Bronchial Asthma, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Dependance on steroids should be discussed and appropriate measures should be taken.
New phacoemulsification probe produce less heat during ultrasonic vibration thus prteventing heat induced damage to the incision and cornea. This can even be used without infusion sleeve through a smaller incision of 1 – 1.4 mm.
Phacoemulsification through a smaller incision of around 1 mm with a sleeveless phaco tip and irrigation through a separate side port provides an advantage of speedy recovery, faster healing and lesser surgery induced astigmatism. The surgery involves insertion of a rollable lens of 5.5mm dia which can be inserted through 1.2 mm incision (The microincision).