Is eye surgery painful?

The first question most patients have when faced with the idea of eye surgery is, “Will it hurt?!”

The simple answer is that in most cases there is very little if any pain asociated with eye surgery. Remember, we want you to be comfortable!

There are three main types of anesthesia for eye surgery:

1) Topical anesthesia: This is most commonly used for cataract surgery and some other surgeries of the ocular surface. In topical anesthesia drops are placed in the eye and the surface becomes numb within minutes. When this is used for cataract surgery, often a numbing medicaiton is also injected into the eye at the time of surgery to further aid in comfort. Topcial anesthesia does not numb the vision or the movement of the eye and the blink reflex continues to function. Movement of the eye during surgery is controlled by the patient with help from the surgeon. The bllink reflex is controlled with a speculum that holds the eyelids open without pain. Most surgeries using topical anesthesia are short, lasting 10 to 30 minutes.

Cataract surgery

2) Retrobulbar anesthesia: This is most commonly used for corneal transplant surgery and other types of intraocular surgery that take longer to perform than cataract surgery. An anesthesiologist puts the patient to sleep for approximately 5 minutes using intravenous medications. During that time an injection is performed behind the eye that numbs the sensations, numbs the vision, numbs the eye muscles, and numbs the blink reflex. The eye is usually numb for threee or more hours and during this time there is no pain, no vision, and no movement of the eye or eyelids. As the numbing injection wears off, sometimes temporary double vision can be experienced.

Corneal surgery

3) General anesthesia: This type of anesthesia is reserved for larger and longer types of eye surgeries. In general ansthesia, the patient is put completely to sleep by the anesthesiologist. It is also used in pediatric cases and other situations in which the patient may not be able to voluntarily keep still.
In the time after eye surgery, your eye may feel somewhat scratchy and slightly sore. This is normal, and if necessary can be managed with over the counter oral pain medications. As the post-operative drops are used and time passes, the eye will feel more and more normal.

The type of anesthesia that is right for you will be discussed as we are planning surgery. As stated above, we want you to be comfortable throughout this process!