Over fifty percent of people over the age of 60 (and quite a few younger than that) develop cataracts. Almost everyone will eventually develop cataracts as they grow older. Cataract formation occurs at different rates in different people, and can affect one, or in most cases, both eyes.
A cataract is a progressive clouding of the eye's natural lens. It interferes with light passing through the eye to the back of the eye, the retina. Aging and other factors cause cells in the eye's lens to clump together, forming these cloudy areas. Early changes may not disturb vision, but over time cataracts typically result in blurred or fuzzy vision and sensitivity to light. People with advanced cataracts often say they feel as if they are looking through a waterfall or a piece of wax paper.
Symptoms of cataracts:
- Decreasing vision with age
- Blurred or double vision
- Seeing halos around bright lights
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Vision that worsens in sunlight
- Difficulty distinguishing colors
- Poor depth perception
- Frequent prescription changes for glasses
- Difficulty reading
Your eye doctor can perform a variety of tests to determine how much your vision has been affected by a cataract. But typically, when decreased vision affects your everyday activities or hobbies, a cataract should be treated.
Currently there is no medical treatment to reverse or prevent the development of cataracts. Once they form, the only one way to achieve clear vision again is through cataract surgery.
Our surgeons perform hundreds of cataract surgeries every year. With the region's aging population, cataract surgery promises to become even more prevalent. Over fifty percent of people over the age of 60, and quite a few younger than that, suffer from cataracts. Currently there is no medical treatment to reverse or prevent the development of cataracts. Once they form, the only way to see clearly again is to have them removed from within the eye.
In your parents' or grandparents' day, cataract surgery was considered risky, required a lengthy hospital stay, and was usually postponed for as long as possible. Today, cataract surgery is performed on an outpatient basis and takes only a few minutes. It is now one of the most common and successful medical procedures performed. In fact, following cataract surgery, many patients experience vision that is actually better than what they had before they developed cataracts. Cataract surgery is for those who:
The cataract particles will be gently suctioned away.
- believe that their quality of life has been impaired by poor vision
- have been diagnosed with cataracts by their ophthalmologist
What to expect on surgery day:
You will arrive at the surgery center about an hour or two prior to your procedure.
We tell patients to plan on spending up to 4 hours at the hospital surgery center, but it is often much less than that. You must bring a driver with you on the day of surgery.
Once you have been checked into the surgery center, your medical history will be reviewed and you will be prepped for surgery. You will be offered a sedative to help you relax. The area around your eyes will be cleaned and a sterile drape applied around your eye.
Eye drops or a local anesthetic will be used to numb your eyes. When your eye is completely numb, an eyelid holder will be placed between your eyelids to keep you from blinking during the procedure.
A very small incision will be made and a tiny ultrasonic probe will be used to break up the cataract into microscopic particles using high-energy sound waves. This is called phacoemulsification.
The cataract particles will be gently suctioned away. Then, a folded intra-ocular lens (IOL) will be inserted through the micro-incision, then unfolded and locked into permanent position. The small incision is "self-sealing" and usually requires no stitches. It remains tightly closed by the natural outward pressure within the eye. This type of incision heals fast and provides a comfortable recuperation.
If your eye has pre-existing astigmatism, your surgeon may elect to make micro-incisions in the cornea to reduce your astigmatism. These are called limbal relaxing incisions (LRIs). Alternatively some IOLs are now available which correct for astigmatism. These astigmatism correcting lenses are called toric IOLs.
You will go home soon after the surgery and relax for the rest of the day. Everyone heals somewhat differently, but many patients report improvement in their vision almost immediately after the procedure. Most patients return to their normal activities within a day or two. The only limitation is heavy lifting. You must be driven the next day to be checked. You will then be seen again in one week and in one month. Glasses will be changed at the appropriate time. Often, many patients elect to have cataract surgery completed in both eyes prior to obtaining eyeglasses (if they are required).
The decision to have cataract surgery is an important one that you will make along with your Doctor. The goal of any vision restoration procedure is to improve your vision. Once removed, cataracts will not grow back. But some patients may experience clouding of a thin tissue, called the capsular bag. This thin tissue holds the intra-ocular lens in position. If this tissue develops some cloudiness over time, a laser is used to painlessly open the clouded capsule to restore clear vision. This procedure called a capsulotomy and is performed in the office.
Serious complications with cataract surgery are extremely rare. It is a safe, effective and permanent procedure, but like any surgical procedure, it does have some risks. Going to an eye specialist experienced with the procedure can significantly minimize the risks involved with cataract surgery.
Intraocular lens (IOL)
After a thorough eye exam, you and your doctor will determine if cataract surgery is an option for you. You will be given additional information about the procedure that will allow you to make an informed decision about whether to proceed. Be sure you have all your questions answered to your satisfaction.
Deluxe Intra-Ocular Lenses (Deluxe IOLs)
Deluxe IOLs are an option which may be appropriate for some patients. If appropriate, this option may be discussed with you by the doctors. For more information, please refer to our section discussing Deluxe IOLs.