A cataract is a common condition that causes a clouding of the eye's natural lens, and affects millions of people each year, including more than half of all Americans over the age of 60. Cloudiness develops as a result of a buildup of protein in the lens preventing light from reaching the retina.
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Causes of Cataracts
Cataracts cause a progressive, painless loss of vision. The lens within the eye clouds naturally as we age, causing people over the age of 60 to see a gradual reduction of vision. There are numerous causes of cataracts, including:
- Alcohol use
- Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light
- Family history of cataracts
- Exposure to radiation
- A result of eye surgery
Diagnosis of Cataracts
A series of tests are performed in order to diagnose a cataract. Some of these tests may include:
- A dilated eye exam
- Visual acuity test
Symptoms of Cataracts
Patients with cataracts often do not experience any symptoms when the condition first develops. Cataracts will continue to progress with no apparent pain, although patients may experience:
- Blurry or hazy vision
- Double vision
- Colors that appear to be faded
- Poor vision in bright light
- Seeing halos around lights
- Poor night time vision
- Yellowish tinged vision
- Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions
Treatment of Cataracts
Early cataracts, which are still fairly new, can sometimes be treated with non-surgical methods such as:
- New eyeglass prescription
- Anti-glare sunglasses
- Magnifying lenses
- Installing lighting that is brighter
If the cataracts begin to interfere with your ability to read, work or do the things you enjoy, you may want to consider cataract surgery to restore your vision. If cataracts are in both eyes, your surgery will be performed on one eye at a time, usually four to eight weeks apart. Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in the United States. Approximately 90 percent of the people who have had cataract surgery have improved vision after the procedure.
Our doctors perform a minimally invasive, small-incision, no-stitch cataract surgery called phacoemulsification, also known as "phaco", surgery. During this procedure, a tiny incision is made in the eye making room for a small ultrasonic probe. This probe breaks up, or emulsifies, the cloudy lens into tiny pieces. The lens pieces are then suctioned out through the probe. Because of its small size, the incision will be able to heal on its own with only a topical eye drop, so there are no injections or stitching in the eye at all.
After the cloudy lens has been removed, the artificial IOL is implanted in the eye. The advanced foldable IOL is inserted through the same small incision that was made to remove the original lens. This process significantly reduces recovery time while improving safety and reducing the risk of bleeding, scarring, irritation and distortion.
During cataract surgery, your doctor replaces the clouded, blurry area of the lens with an artificial one to correct vision. However, after surgery, many people experience a gradual clouding on the covering of the new lens, a condition known as aftercataract or secondary membrane. Clouding is the most common complication of cataract surgery and can cause blurred vision to return, but a solution is available to treat this side effect.
A procedure called a posterior capsulotomy, using an Nd: YAG laser, can be performed to remove the back lining of the lens capsule and let light pass through to the retina. The laser cuts a hole in the back lining and helps remove cloudiness in the lens.
The capsulotomy can be performed in your doctor's office and is a painless procedure that does not require any anesthesia. It is considered a safe procedure and most people only experience short-term increased eye pressure.
A YAG capsulotomy cannot prevent clouding of the lens, but can be beneficial to the 1 in 4 people who experience this complication. It is important to weigh the possible risks and benefits, similar to that of the original cataract surgery, before deciding upon treatment. Most people experience improved vision and reduced glare after undergoing a posterior capsulotomy.
Cataract Surgery Risks & Complications
If left untreated, cataracts will worsen over time and may lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness. It is important to regularly visit with your eye doctor in order to detect cataracts as early as possible and plan an effective treatment method.
While cataract surgery is considered to be safe, there are certain risks associated with any type of surgery. Some of these risks may include:
- Retinal detachment
Most patients undergo this procedure without any complications. About 90 percent of the cases of cataract surgery show improved vision after the procedure.
If you are concerned about developing cataracts or have been diagnosed with cataracts and are considering surgery, contact our office today for an evaluation.
IntraOcular Lens Replacement Options
There are several different IOLs available to help each patient achieve the best possible results from cataract surgery. Multifocal IOLs allow for full vision correction at near, intermediate and far distances, completely eliminating the need for eyeglasses or contact lenses for most patients. Some IOLs can also correct astigmatism.
These choices were not always available for cataract patients. In the past, cataract surgery only involved monofocal lenses, which could only focus on objects near or far, but could not adjust to accommodate varying distances. These patients still had to rely on glasses or contact lenses after surgery in order to see clearly at all distances, especially for those older patients suffering from presbyopia.
Toric IOLs are specially designed for patients with astigmatism. Traditionally, surgical correction of astigmatism required making a series of small incisions (called LRIs, or limbal relaxing incisions) around the cornea to make it more spherical instead of football-shaped. Implanting toric IOLs often improves vision without the need for these extra incisions, and also allows patients to enjoy a faster, more comfortable recovery.
Flexible IOLs have been used for years to help patients enjoy clear vision after cataract surgery. The advanced ReSTOR® lens improves upon ordinary IOLs by providing a full range of focusing distances. A series of 12 gradual "step heights" create seamless focusing ability from near to far, while the edge of the IOL enhances distance vision. A feature called apodization also helps the eye distribute light evenly in different lighting conditions. Best of all, up to 80% of patients who use the ReSTOR® lens don't need glasses or contact lenses after surgery.