A cataract is any clouding of the natural lens, which is located behind the iris (the colored part of the eye). The lens undergoes aging changes throughout life, beginning with its loss of flexibility in the 40’s, which causes a need for reading glasses. Over time, these changes affect the clarity of the lens and a cataract is the natural result. Cataracts can occur at any point in life and, in addition to the natural aging process, they may be triggered by trauma, medications, some eye surgeries, and some genetic conditions. In fact, it’s even possible to be born with cataracts. Some cataracts are very mild and don’t interfere with vision. It is not necessary to treat these. As a cataract develops though, it may start making vision blurry for reading or driving and lights may cause a blinding glare, making it especially difficult to drive at night. When a cataract starts to interfere with your vision or activities, it may be time to consider cataract surgery.
Although much research is being directed towards the prevention or medical treatment of cataracts, the only effective treatment at present is cataract surgery. Fortunately, modern cataract surgery has evolved into a brief and virtually painless operation with an extremely high rate of success and great patient satisfaction. Prior to surgery, our patients visit with our medical staff, who take a careful health history, obtain specialized measurements of the eyes, and coordinate care with the patient’s medical doctor. On the day of surgery, mild sedation is usually provided and the eye is made numb with either drops or, in some cases, an injection.
In the surgery suite, under a powerful operating microscope, the surgeon makes a tiny opening in the eye. A short operation is done in which the clouded lens is removed through a process called phacoemulsification. Special care is taken to avoid damaging the delicate lens capsule, which is the membrane that surrounds the lens and holds it in place. This same capsule is then used to hold a new, clear, manmade lens implant that has been determined by specialized testing and calculations to be the correct power for the eye. After the surgery, our patients are escorted to a comfortable lounge, where they rejoin their family or friends, and thorough instructions are given by our dedicated staff of registered nurses. It is generally possible to resume most activities the next day.
Vision after cataract surgery
Most cataracts have some degree of amber-brown discoloration. After surgery, people generally notice much brighter, clearer vision with more vibrant colors. Whites are much whiter, and blues can once again be seen with clarity. Often, things that appeared to be black are discovered to be a navy blue color.
Because the proper power of the lens implant can usually be predetermined with careful measurements and calculations, this operation essentially “re-powers” the eye and may correct pre-existing farsightedness or nearsightedness. As a result, many people can see reasonably well for distance without glasses. Some people still need glasses for sharp distance vision, but new treatments are available to further reduce the need for distance glasses, such as limbal relaxing incisions for astigmatism and PRK laser treatment. (These additional treatments are considered elective refractive surgery and are not usually covered by Medicare or private insurance).