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Phaco power modulation boosts safety, efficacy in cataract surgery

Digital EditionOphthalmology Times: April 1, 2021
Volume 46
Issue 6

Surgeons learn that timing is everything when using technology.

Lisa Park

The goal in cataract surgery is perfection in nuclear disassembly performed with just the right amount of phaco energy—not too much, not too little.

Excessive ultrasound can result in endothelial cell loss, corneal edema, and corneal wound burn.

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Too little can result in movement of the capsular bag or zonular stress, difficult nuclear disassembly, too much irrigation fluid used, and long surgical times, according to Lisa Park, MD, associate professor at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, New York.

Transversal and torsional phaco

Traditional longitudinal phaco is a powerful technology to break up very dense nuclei using a back-and-forth jackhammer motion, but that comes with associated disadvantages.

The process, with its long stroke length and high power, can result in repulsion of nuclear fragments at the phaco tip and no cutting performed during the backward movement of the tip—making it important to limit the power settings that cause excessive heat buildup, which has the potential to damage ocular tissues, she explained.

New adjunctive developments in phaco technology can alter the direction by which the power is delivered using lateral and rotational motions, referred to as transversal and torsional phaco.

Related: Expert on IFIS offers practical pearls for success

In contrast to the jackhammer effect of longitudinal phaco, a combination approach results in transversal ultrasound that combines simultaneous longitudinal back-and-forth motion with transversal movement in an elliptical fashion.

“This adds to the cutting efficiency because the nuclear material is emulsified in more than one direction,” Park said.

In torsional phaco, the tip oscillates in a rotational manner along its primary axis, which, she explained, works best with an angled phaco needle. Using this technology, the rotation of the tip provides an additional cutting movement through the nucleus.

The primary advantage increases energy efficiency with minimal repulsion at the tip; the disadvantages are that a curved phaco tip can be difficult to move through a dense nucleus and there is significant movement of the tip.

Phaco timing
The timing of power delivery can be modified to increase phaco efficiency, with the basic settings of continuous, pulse, and burst power.

Related: Changing patient conversations around cataract surgery

When power is continuous, the maximum power delivered is controlled by depressing the foot pedal; the power increases with the degree of depression of the foot pedal.

The amount of power delivered can be limited by using phaco pulse mode; after each pulse is delivered, there is a period of time in which no energy is delivered.

These periods of rest in power delivery allow cooling of the phaco needle and reduce heat and energy delivered to the eye.

These on-and-off periods are referred to as the duty cycle; standard pulse has a 50% duty cycle, during which the ultrasound is on half of the time no matter how many pulses per second are delivered.

The duty cycle can be altered to change the ratio of the on and off time. For example, a 20% duty cycle results in 20 milliseconds on and 80 milliseconds off during each cycle. The long off time allows easy aspiration of the nuclear fragments.

Related: Preventing cystoid macular oedema after cataract surgery

There can be scenarios when higher or lower duty cycles serve a better purpose. During sculpting, energy is needed to create a groove in the lens, meaning that higher rates work better because the shorter time between pulses results in smoother delivery of energy; when nuclear quadrants are being removed, a lower duty cycle is better to emulsify the fragments because there is a long interval between the pulses, which facilitates aspiration.

Finally, using burst mode, each burst has the same power, but the interval between bursts decreases with foot-pedal depression. With more depression of the foot pedal, the shorter the off time is between bursts.

“The identical bursts of energy are delivered more and more rapidly with foot-pedal depression; with maximal depression, the time interval between bursts is very small, making for continuous energy delivery,” Park said.

Related: Femtosecond laser-assisted RLE offering better outcomes

This mode allows for true phaco-assisted aspiration of the nucleus; the fluidics and vacuum can be used for aspiration and give small bursts of power as needed. Lower phaco power settings should be used in burst mode compared with pulse or continuous mode because of the absence of linear control at the phaco power level.

Regarding the choice of these 3 modes, Park noted the ability to program timing and duration combined with the directional modes (ie, transverse and torsional phaco) allow the surgeon to have “highly elegant control and precise ultrasound power delivery.”

Femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery
Femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery (FLACS) is another technology that has resulted in increased efficiency in nuclear disassembly. FLACS allows the surgeon to decide the pattern of lens fragmentation.

Park explained that femtosecond pretreatment significantly reduces the effective phaco time compared with conventional phaco surgery, thus reducing loss of endothelial cells and allowing faster visual rehabilitation.

Related: Research: Femtosecond lasers challenge phacoemulsification

FLACS works through photodisruption, which vaporizes the targeted tissues. This is similar to the mechanism of phaco, but it occurs at the near-infrared wavelength, which is not absorbed by optically clear tissues.

This laser is focused to 3 microns and is especially useful for targeting specific depths. The waves dissipate approximately 100 microns from the targeted tissue, and the endothelium is not affected.

Using FLACS to create the quadrants, there is no need to phaco to sculpt the lens; the surgeon can go directly to removal of the quadrants after nuclear disassembly along the lines created by the laser.

As a result, lower total energy is used in the eye, making nuclear removal easier, Park explained.

The disadvantages of FLACS for experienced high-volume surgeons are the cost, increased surgical time, and minimal long-term enhanced visual outcome. However, FLACS may be advantageous for use in brunescent cataracts of patients with Fuchs’ dystrophy.

Related: Macular OCT imaging is vital in work-up of cataract surgery patients

“There are many means of modulating phaco power to achieve outstanding results in cataract surgery and provide the best patient care,” Park concluded.


Lisa Park, MD

Park has no financial interest in this subject matter.

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