by: John W. French, M.D., Cataract, Cornea & LASIK Surgeon, Carolina Eye Associates
A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens inside your eye. This lens, located behind the iris, works just like the lens of a camera: focusing light images on the retina, which sends images to the brain. A cataract causes the human lens to cloud, which decreases the light and images from focusing on the retina. In fact, cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in adults 55 and older.
Cataracts can cause images to become blurred and bright colors to become dull. It can also make seeing at night more difficult. If you are diagnosed with a cataract, your early symptoms may be improved with new glasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses or a magnifying lens. If these changes don’t help, surgery is the only effective treatment. Many people believe cataracts have to be “ripe” before they can be removed. This is no longer true. Today, cataract surgery can be performed as soon as your vision interferes with your quality of life.
Generally, cataract surgery is a safe, outpatient procedure with little discomfort. Phacoemulsification, or “phaco”, is the most common cataract surgery procedure used today. It was developed to reduce recovery time as well as the risks involved with larger incisions. You will be given an anesthetic to numb the nerves in and/or around the eye. A small incision is made on the side of the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. Your surgeon will insert a tiny probe into the eye. This device emits ultrasound waves that soften and break up the lens so that it can be removed by suction. The incision is so small that it seals itself, so stitches are rarely necessary. Once the cataract is removed, a new, artificial lens is inserted through the same incision. This lens is known as an intraocular lens or IOL.
An IOL is a clear, plastic lens that requires no care and becomes a permanent part of your eye. Based on your test results, your surgeon will recommend the best IOL for you. Be sure you understand all the options available to you.
If your surgeon determines you have cataracts in both eyes, he or she may recommend operating on the eye with the denser cataract first. If surgery is successful and your vision improves substantially, you may elect to forgo surgery on your other eye. However, most people get significant benefits from having the second eye operation, including better depth perception and improvements in their ability to drive and to read. People usually have the second surgery once the first eye has healed and their vision is stable. If you are extremely far-sighted or nearsighted and need cataract surgery in both eyes, you may want to have the second surgery soon after the first surgery to avoid problems with double vision and depth perception due to the difference in vision from eye to eye.
Most think cataracts only affect seniors. In reality, cataracts can affect anyone! Although most people do not show symptoms of cataracts until at least the age of 40, cataracts can also affect young adults or even children.
There is no proven way to prevent age-related cataracts. However, choosing a healthy lifestyle can slow the progression of cataracts. Some ways to delay the progression of cataracts include avoiding smoking, reducing exposure to UV rays, eating healthy foods and wearing proper eye protection to avoid eye injury.
John W. French, M.D. is ophthalmologist specializing in the cataract, cornea and LASIK surgery. For more information on cataract surgery contact our cataract counselor at (910) 295-2095 or (800) 733-9355 toll-free.