Cataracts & Cataract Surgery
The sun has not yet risen and birds are still sleeping. You’re comfortable in your bed when suddenly your alarm screeches, jolting you out of a peaceful slumber! You open your eyes but your vision is blurry or obscure. You rub your eyes and blink a few times and your sight is back to normal. This is a scenario many of us are familiar with. As we age, similar sensations—blurry vision, sensitivity to light, “seeing double,” may become more frequent. One possible cause is a cataract.
Inside each of our eyes is a natural lens which bends light rays, helping us to see. Under normal circumstances this lens is clear. Individuals with cataracts have a cloudy lens which causes images to appear blurry, as though you are viewing them through a dirty window. Cataracts are commonly associated with aging. Around age 40, proteins in the eye begin to naturally break down. Over time this causes the lens to become cloudy.
Other causes of cataracts include diabetes, eye injury and prolonged exposure to sunlight without the use of protective eyeglasses. Non-age-related cataracts may develop more rapidly. Individuals may be able to slow the development of cataracts by wearing sunglasses or eyeglasses with a protective anti-UV coating.
Cataracts can only be removed with surgery. Surgery may be recommended if cataracts are prohibiting you from doing everyday tasks. For less severe cases, your doctor may suggest updating your eyeglass prescription to help you see more clearly.
Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure. Your natural, cloudy lens is replaced with a clear artificial lens called an “intraocular lens” or IOL. Your doctor will prescribe medicated eye drops to use in the days leading up to the procedure so as to prevent swelling and infection after surgery. On the day of the procedure you might be given medicine to help you relax. You will be awake for the procedure, but will not be able to clearly see what the surgeon is doing. Your eyes will be numbed with eye drops and tiny incisions will be made in the cornea (or outer layer of the eye). These incisions allow the surgeon to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with the IOL. A shield will then be placed over your eyes to protect them while you heal. Patients are typically held for 15 to 30 minutes after surgery for recovery, then are sent home.
Your doctor will explain the limitations and expectations for the days and weeks following surgery. During this time you will be instructed to use prescribed eye drops. You should refrain from bending forward or exerting force and you should not rub or press on your eyes. You may be asked to wear eyeglasses or a shield to help protect your eyes. Your doctor will explain to you when you may resume exercising, driving or engaging in other activities.
It is important to remember that cataract surgery does not restore vision which has been lost as a result of other conditions such as macular degeneration or glaucoma. Risks of cataract surgery include eye infection, swelling, bleeding, detached retina, vision loss and pain. Your doctor will explain all of the risks and benefits of cataract surgery.
If you believe you may have cataracts or if you have other concerns about your vision, schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist today. Routine eye exams are a critical step in preserving your eye health.