• Vol. 31 No. 5, 666–674
  • 15 September 2002

6th Yahya Cohen Lecture: Visual Experience During Cataract Surgery



Introduction: The visual sensations many patients experience during cataract surgery under local anaesthesia have received little attention until recently. This paper reviews the recent studies on this phenomenon, discusses its clinical significance and suggests novel approaches to reduce its negative impact on the surgery.


Results: Many patients who have cataract surgery under retrobulbar, peribulbar or topical anaesthesia experience a variety of visual sensations in their operated eye during surgery. These visual sensations include perception of light, movements, flashes, one or more colours, surgical instruments, the surgeon’s hand/fingers, the surgeon and changes in light brightness. Some patients experience transient no light perception, even if the operation is performed under topical anaesthesia. The clinical significance of this phenomenon lies in the fact that approximately 7.1% to 15.4% of patients find their visual experience frightening. This fear and anxiety may cause some patients to become uncooperative during surgery and trigger a sympathetic surge, causing such undesirable effects as hypertension, tachycardia, ischaemic strain on the heart, hyperventilation and acute panic attack. Several approaches to reduce the negative impact of patients’ visual experience are suggested, including appropriate preoperative counselling and reducing the ability of patients to see during surgery.

Conclusions: The findings that some patients find their intraoperative visual experience distressing have a major impact on the way ophthalmologists manage their cataract patients. To reduce its negative impact, surgeons should consider incorporating appropriate preoperative counselling on potential intraoperative visual experience when obtaining informed consent for surgery.

What a patient can see during his or her surgery can be a cause of anxiety for the patient. It may cause additional stress to what for most patients is already a traumatic event.

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