A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye; cataract surgery is performed to improve vision by replacing the clouded lens with an artificial one. Cataracts affect millions of people in the United States each year. Most cataracts are the result of aging, though some form as a result of genetic factors, disease, or injury. Cataract surgery is common and considered safe and effective.
Reasons For Cataract Surgery
Cataracts can cause blurry vision, and increase the glare from lights. In their early stages, cataracts usually are not troublesome but, as they thicken, surgery to remove them may be required. Typically, surgery is needed because cataracts are interfering with everyday activities, or the treatment of another eye problem.
Candidates For Cataract Surgery
Cataracts caused by aging develop gradually, and patients may not notice the early vision changes they cause. It is only when their cataracts start interfering with vision that patients may become aware of them. An ophthalmologic examination will detect cataracts, and rule out other causes for vision issues, such as glaucoma or macular degeneration. Patients who become aware of visual difficulties related to cataracts usually experience, especially at night, clouded, blurred or dim vision.
Benefits Of Cataract Surgery
Cataract surgery's benefits are many, greatly enhancing the quality of life. They include the following:
- Improved quality of vision (sharper images, brighter colors)
- Less difficulty with routine tasks (particularly night driving)
- Decreased dependency on eyeglasses
- Greater independence, regardless of age or disability
- Greater safety
Research indicates that the improved vision provided by cataract surgery reduces the risk of falls, making exercise, sports and hobbies safer. This, combined with the improved ability to read, recognize faces, and perform everyday activities with greater ease, results in improved physical health, increased sociability and longer life expectancy.
The Cataract Surgery Procedure
After the pupil is dilated, and the area in and around the eye is numbed with anesthesia, a tiny incision is made to insert an ultrasonic probe. The probe emulsifies (breaks up) the cloudy lens into tiny pieces that are then suctioned out of the eye. Once the cloudy lens has been removed, an artificial lens is implanted.
What Types Of IOLs Are Available?
Your ophthalmolohgist will help you decide on the type of intraocular lens (IOL) that will replace your cloudy lens. There are IOLs avaible to treat nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and astigmatism.
IOLs usually provide either near or distance vision: these signel focus lenses are called monofocal IOLs.
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Some newer IOLs can provide for some combination of near, intermediate, and distance vision: these multifocal lenses are called presbyopia correctinh IOLs.
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IOLs that can treat astigmatism are called toric IOLs.
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You can also have one eye corrected for near vision, and the other for distance vision, a choice called monovision.
Cataract surgery is performed on an outpatient basis under topical anesthesia and typically is associated with minimal or no discomfort. This procedure has a high rate and a low complication rate. The surgery requires only a few hours of your time with the actual procedure taking less than 10 minutes.
Risks Of Cataract Surgery
Although cataract surgery is a common procedure and considered quite safe, any surgery poses risks. In the case of cataract surgery, there is a slightly increased risk of retinal detachment, a painless but dangerous condition. Other risks of cataract surgery include bleeding and infection. The risk of complications after cataract surgery is greater if the patient has another eye disease or serious medical condition. Danger signs of complications after cataract surgery include increased pain in or redness of the eye, light flashes or floaters, diminished vision, nausea, vomiting or intense coughing.
Recovery From Cataract Surgery
Immediately after surgery, an eye patch is worn; some doctors advise wearing a protective shield, even when sleeping, for several days. Vision may be blurry at first, but improves within a few days. Some itching and discomfort are also present for a few days, but it is important that a patient not rub or exert pressure on the treated eye. Heavy lifting should be avoided. Eye drops to prevent inflammation and infection, and control eye pressure are prescribed.
Even though full healing can take up to 2 months, because cataract surgery is performed on one eye at a time, daily activities can be resumed in a few days. Most patients need to wear eyeglasses, for at least some tasks, after surgery. If the other eye also has a cataract, which is usually the case, the second surgery is scheduled a month or two after the first.