What is a cataract?
With few exceptions, most of us are born with a clear lens in each eye. This lens functions to focus light onto the retina —the layer of light-sensing cells lining the back of the eye. When this focusing occurs properly in a healthy eye, sharp vision is the result.
A cataract is a clouding of this naturally clear lens. When the lens becomes cloudy, light rays can no longer pass through the lens easily, and vision is blurred.
Cataract development is a normal process of aging, but cataracts also develop from eye injuries, certain diseases, or medications. Your genes may also play a role in cataract development.
Learn more about cataracts:
How can a cataract be treated?
A cataract may not need to be treated. In fact, almost everyone will develop cataracts if they live long enough. Simply having a cataract is not a reason for surgery if your vision is only slightly blurry. In some cases, changing your eyeglass prescription may help to improve your vision for a while.
However, when cataracts interfere with your vision so that you are no longer able to see well enough to do the things you like to do, cataract surgery should be considered. There are no medications, eye drops, exercises, or glasses that will cause cataracts to disappear or to prevent them from forming. Surgery is the only way to improve blurry vision that is due to a cataract.
Our doctors can determine if cataract surgery is likely to be helpful for a patient by performing a thorough eye examination in our office.
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
Symptoms of cataracts are variable but can include any of the following:
Sensitivity to light and glare, especially while driving at night
Distorted images in either eye
Changes in the way you see colors, or colors seem faded
Cloudy, filmy or fuzzy vision
Frequent changes in your eyeglass prescription
Changes in the color of the pupil
Poor night vision
Increased nearsightedness or farsightedness
What is done during cataract surgery?
Surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. Typically, only mild sedation is needed for the procedure and topical anesthetic eye drops are used to numb the eye.
Using an operating microscope, a small incision, usually around 3 millimeters long, is made in the eye. Precise surgical instruments are used to break apart and remove the cloudy lens from the eye.
In most cases, the natural lens is then replaced with a permanent intraocular lens (IOL) implant. This IOL is clear and is intended to stay in the eye forever.
The incision typically does not require stitches. This small incision, no-stitch technique, has drastically reduced the recovery time for modern cataract surgery. Most patients have very few limitations after their surgery and can return to normal activity within days.
Watch a video about cataract surgery:
Will I have to wear glasses after my cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery has improved vision for thousands of our patients. Many of these patients can now perform daily tasks with minimal use or even without the use of glasses or contacts. This is possible because prior to cataract surgery the eye is measured to determine the proper power of the IOL to be placed during surgery. While not the case for everyone, cataract surgery is becoming an increasingly important tool for our doctors to reduce the dependence on corrective eyewear.
Is cataract surgery done with a laser?
Cataract surgery is typically accomplished by a process called phacoemulsification that employs advanced ultrasound technology to break up the cloudy lens and remove it. A new, clear intraocular lens or IOL is then placed to restore vision. Glasses or contact lenses may still be needed after cataract surgery - even if they were not needed prior to surgery.
Recently however a new procedure called ReLACS or Refractive Laser Assisted Cataract Surgery has become available. In this procedure a laser is used to assist in the removal of the cataract and to correct astigmatism at the time of surgery.
Is cataract surgery successful?
The success rate of cataract surgery is very high. Improved vision is achieved in the vast majority of patients if other vision-limiting problems are not present.
There are, however, cases in which even successful cataract surgery does not improve vision as much as we would like. This is usually due to other eye problems such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. Even with these problems, cataract surgery may still be worthwhile.
Your doctor will counsel you on your chances of improving vision with cataract surgery and what, if any vision limiting factors might be present on your exam.
Are there risks with cataract surgery?
There are risks with any surgery including cataract surgery. Fortunately, serious complications are rare. If cataract surgery is recommended, your doctor will discuss potential risks, benefits and alternatives with you during your visit.