What are cataracts?
Your eye works like a camera, with an internal clear lens to focus an image on the retina at the back of the eye. When the lens becomes cloudy and discolored, causing increasingly hazy vision, it is called a cataract. While cataracts may develop in both eyes at the same time, they do not spread from one eye to the other. They are not caused by overuse of the eye and using your eye will not make them worse. Typically, they develop gradually over many years. The good news is that cataracts can be successfully treated to restore good vision.
What causes a cataract?
The natural aging process is the most common reason for the development of cataracts, particularly when there is a family tendency. These are called nuclear cataracts and are the most common type. Cortical cataracts are another relatively common type that occur as we age.
Traumatic cataracts can also develop following an eye injury such as a blow, puncture, cut or burn. Those formed in association with certain diseases or medications are called secondary cataracts.
Congenital cataracts are present at birth, and may be severe, requiring immediate surgery on an infant. In mild cases, they are either not considered worth the surgical risk, or not noticed until the child's first full eye exam. This type of cataract generally doesn’t progress with age.
There may be no obvious symptoms in the early stages of a cataract, but as it worsens, you may experience hazy or blurred vision, double vision or an increased sensitivity to glare. Also, switching to stronger eyeglasses will no longer improve your vision.
Cataracts typically cannot be seen by external examination. At my office, we use a high-powered specialized microscope to determine the type, location and size of the cataract and an ophthalmoscope to view the interior of the eye.
There is no known medical treatment such as eye drops or laser technology that will clear up a cataract or prevent its formation. On the other hand, it is thought that a healthy diet rich in vegetables, or daily intake of antioxidant vitamins may delay the cataract's development.
When a cataract has developed on the lens of the eye, the only way to restore clear vision is surgical removal of the lens and replacement with a permanent lens implant.
Research shows that over one million Americans will have cataract surgery this year. Fortunately, you can expect a high success rate and a minimum of discomfort from today's surgical techniques. And once a cataract has been removed, it will not come back.
Few fields of surgery have experienced as many exciting new developments as the treatment of cataracts. Cataract microsurgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia. Most surgeons use an innovative technique called phacoemulsification. This procedure is performed under a high-powered microscope and involves placing a tiny, ultrasonic probe in the eye through a very small incision. The probe breaks down and removes the cloudy portion of the lens--the cataract -- leaving in place the lens capsule to provide a base for securing the intraocular lens implant.
Today, a revolutionary one-piece "foldable" lens has made it possible to complete the surgical procedure in most cases without a single suture, or stitch. The new lens is the most recent breakthrough in a series of innovations which have made cataract surgery increasingly safe, convenient and painless for our patients. Obvious benefits of "sutureless" surgery include reduced discomfort and a faster return to health and clear vision.
When is the right time for surgery?
If you continue to come in for yearly, routine eye exams, we'll be able to monitor whether you are developing cataracts. We will be happy to give advice on whether it's time for you to do something about the cataracts--but in general, the decision is yours to make. When you feel that your vision has worsened to the point of not being able to do the things you like to do, then you may decide to have the procedure done. There is no benefit to waiting until your vision is seriously impaired before considering surgery. The sooner the cloudy lens is removed, and replaced with a clear, modern lens implant, the sooner you will be able to return to a full enjoyment of life's riches.
Cataract surgery is an extremely effective, safe and painless operation. When you decide it is time for the surgery, you'll undergo tests to determine the power of your lens implant. We'll also be happy to refer you to a surgeon we feel confident in; one we know will provide top-notch surgery.
Keep in mind that cataract surgery is a procedure that a million people will have in the U.S. this year, and it's the most commonly performed surgery in the country--so you are not alone! We have a lot of experience dealing with people who are considering cataract removal, as well as those who have already had it done. Use us as a valuable resource to help you decide when it is time for you to have it done--we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have.