If your doctor has told you that you have a cataract, don’t worry. Every year, over 14.2 million cataract surgeries are performed worldwide. It is the number-one surgical procedure for Americans over 65. Today’s cataract procedure is safer, faster and more comfortable than ever before, and millions of people worldwide are now enjoying excellent vision as a result of their cataract procedures.
What is a cataract?
The lens of the eye is made mostly of water and protein. As the eye ages, some of the protein may clump together. This can start to cloud small areas of the lens, blocking light from reaching the retina and interfering with vision. This is a cataract.
How cataracts develop
Most cataracts develop slowly. A cataract can take months or even years to reach a point where it adversely affects vision. Some people first notice a cataract as a reduction in central vision. Other people may experience a problem in peripheral (or side) vision. And some may notice glare when looking toward a light.
How cataracts affect your lifestyle
Typical signs of cataracts include:
- Clouded, blurred, or dim vision
- Increasing difficulty with vision at night
- Sensitivity to bright sunlight or oncoming lights at night
- Halos around lights
- The need for brighter light for reading or other activities
- Frequent changes in your eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Double vision or ghost images in one eye
The left portion of the photo simulates vision impaired by cataracts; the right portion simulates the same scene after cataract surgery
Treating a cataract
The decision to treat a cataract is reached by you and your doctor, based on the degree to which the cataract is impairing your vision. Since there is presently no medical treatment for cataracts, the best option is cataract removal. After the cataract is removed, a tiny man-made lens is inserted into the eye to restore vision. The man-made lens is called an intraocular lens, or IOL for short.
A new lens for better vision
Once you and your doctor have decided on cataract removal, your doctor will carefully choose an IOL that will fit your eye and give you the best possible vision. IOL offer the most advanced technology, as well as a proven record of excellent performance in millions of eyes. Most likely, your doctor will choose either a silicone or acrylic IOL. Each of these IOLs is an outstanding choice for long-term optical clarity. Plus you will benefit from patented engineering that can minimize the possibility of glare. After your cataract is removed, you will have a lot to look forward to. In the vast majority of cases, people have better vision after their cataract procedures, according to the National Eye Institute.
What to expect during surgery
Today, cataract removal is generally performed as an outpatient procedure, under local or topical anesthesia. You will be fully awake, but you will be comfortable and feel no pain. Typically, you will be asked to arrive an hour or so prior to your procedure and you will be allowed to leave after a period of observation following your procedure. With the removal process lasting only about 20 minutes, the enter procedure-from entering the operating facility to returning home-usually takes only a few hours. To remove your cataract, your doctor will use a technique called phacoemulsification-or phaco for short. Your doctor will make a tiny, 1/8th inch incision and insert a small ultrasonic phaco probe. The probe will break apart the clouded lens and suction it out. Next, a soft, flexible, folded IOL will be inserted through the same tiny incision, into the lens capsule of your eye. Once the IOL is inside your eye, your doctor will allow it to unfold in the proper position. Because this procedure is performed through an incision, that is very small, your eye will be able to heal rapidly with little or no discomfort.
What to expect after your procedure
Normally, you will be able to go home on the day of your surgery, but you should arrange for a ride since you wont be able to drive. Prior to your discharge from the operating facility, instructions for postoperative care will be discussed with you. You’ll typically be asked to see your eye doctor the next day and several time during the coming weeks.
Some people may need to wear an eye patch following surgery. This decision is made by your doctor and is based on your individual needs. During the first few days after surgery, try not to bend or lift heavy objects. Bending increases pressure in the eye. You can walk, climb stairs, and do light household chores.
Getting back to normal
If all goes well, your eye will heal rapidly and your vision will improve within a few days or even sooner. It is normal to feel mild discomfort for a day or two after surgery. Avoid rubbing or pressing your eye. Clean your eyelids with tissue or cotton balls to remove any crusty discharge. Your doctor may prescribe medications to prevent infection and control eye pressure. After a few days, all discomfort should disappear. You can quickly return to many everyday activities, but your vision may be blurry. The healing eye needs time to adjust so that it can focus properly with the other eye, especially if the other eye has a cataract. Ask your doctor when you can resume driving. Most people need to wear glasses after cataract surgery. You can usually get a final prescription for eyeglasses three to six weeks after surgery, if necessary. Complications after cataract surgery are rare, and most can be treated. They include inflammation, infection, bleeding, swelling, retinal detachment, and glaucoma. The risks are greater for people who have other eye diseases or serious medical problems. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any discomfort or changes in your vision.