Injectable versus topical anesthesia for cataract surgery: patient perceptions of pain and side effects. The Study of Medical Testing for Cataract Surgery study team

Ophthalmology. 2000 Nov;107(11):2054-60. doi: 10.1016/s0161-6420(00)00359-6.


Objective: To compare patient reports of intraoperative pain and postoperative side effects by different anesthesia strategies for cataract surgery.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Participants: Men and women 50 years of age and older undergoing 19,250 cataract surgeries at nine centers in the United States and Canada from June 1995 through June 1997.

Intervention: Topical anesthesia or anesthesia with injection, with or without sedatives, opioid analgesia, hypnotics, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

Main outcome measures: Patient ratings of intraoperative pain, satisfaction with pain management, and early postoperative side effects (drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, or a combination thereof).

Results: Twenty-six percent of surgeries were performed using topical anesthesia alone, and the remainder were performed with peribulbar, retrobulbar, or facial nerve block, or a combination thereof. Local anesthesia by injection with sedatives and diphenhydramine resulted in the lowest reporting of any intraoperative pain (1.3%), with postoperative drowsiness (9.6%) and nausea, vomiting, or both (1.5%) comparable with those administered topical anesthesia alone. Among those receiving topical anesthesia, use of sedatives and opioids reduced reports of any pain during surgery by 56% (95% confidence interval [CI], 34%, 70%), but increased nausea and vomiting (odds ratio, 2.27; 95% CI, 1.26, 4.09) compared with those administered topical anesthesia alone, after adjusting for age, gender, race, American Society of Anesthesiologists risk class, self-reported health status, and duration of surgery. Among those receiving local injections, use of opioids reduced reports of any pain among those receiving sedatives by 37% (95% CI, 15%, 54%), but did not increase postoperative side effects. The use of diphenhydramine among those receiving sedatives decreased reports of any pain by 59% (95% CI, 33%, 75%) and also reduced drowsiness and nausea and vomiting by 57% (95% CI, 48%, 65%) and by 60% (95% CI, 36%, 75%), respectively. Use of hypnotics with sedatives was associated with increased reports of any pain during surgery and increased nausea and vomiting after surgery.

Conclusions: Patient reports of any pain during cataract surgery (5%) and postoperative side effects (16% drowsiness and 4% nausea and vomiting) were low, but varied by anesthesia strategy. Patient perceptions of pain and side effects can be helpful in guiding the appropriate choice of anesthesia strategy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Aged
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Anesthesia, Local / adverse effects
  • Anesthesia, Local / methods*
  • Anesthetics, Local / administration & dosage*
  • Anesthetics, Local / adverse effects
  • Cataract Extraction*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / administration & dosage
  • Injections
  • Middle Aged
  • Nausea / etiology
  • Nausea / prevention & control
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sleep Stages / drug effects
  • Vomiting / etiology
  • Vomiting / prevention & control


  • Analgesics
  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Ophthalmic Solutions