Statistics indicate that over 24.4 million Americans are affected by cataracts.
Individuals aged 40 and over have the highest prevalence rate of cataracts. The likelihood to develop this condition increases with age.
When an individual starts suffering from cataracts, the lens in their eye(s) becomes compromised and is no longer able to focus light onto their retina correctly.
This causes their vision to get clouded, thus affecting their day-to-day activities such as driving and reading.
Over time, their vision will keep getting worse, and if the cataracts are left untreated, blindness has the potential to occur.
As such, it is crucial that any person who experiences cataracts-like symptoms gets diagnosed so they can get treatment as soon as possible.
This article will discuss everything you need to know about cataracts treatment and the options available.
What are Cataracts?
A cataract refers to the clouding of your eye’s lens. This lens sits behind the iris (the colored part of the eye). The function of the lens is to focus light entering the eye. Therefore, it needs to be clear.
Unfortunately, as we age, the lens becomes more susceptible to hardening or stiffening.
These changes might eventually cause the development of cataracts. When this happens, your vision might get misty or cloudy. Cataracts can affect either or both eyes.
What Causes Cataracts?
As mentioned earlier, cataracts development is a part of getting older. A lot of people start developing cataracts when they reach the age of 65, even though some can develop them while in their forties and fifties.
Nonetheless, certain things raise your likelihood of developing this condition. They include:
• Diabetes – people with diabetes are more prone to developing cataracts earlier.
• Trauma – an injury to the eye can trigger the development of cataracts.
• Medication – certain prescription drugs such as steroids have been known to trigger cataracts.
Some eye conditions such as glaucoma, high myopia, uveitis, , and retinitis pigmentosa can also cause cataracts.
Symptoms of Cataracts
Cataracts typically take quite a long time to develop. In the beginning, changes to sight are going to be slight; however, as cataracts get worse, you might start noticing symptoms such as:
• Cloudy or misty eyesight
• You might start feeling like your glasses are dirty and need cleaning, even when they are not
• Increased sensitivity to light
• Things might begin appearing washed out.
Eventually, your sight might start diminishing.
To establish if you indeed have cataracts, your doctor will ask whether you have been experiencing certain symptoms.
They are likely to ask you whether your vision has been blurry or whether glare from lights has been bothering you more than usual, especially during the night.
The physician will then examine your eyes using a variety of tests such as:
• Visual Acuity Test
This refers to an eye chart exam. Here, they might ask you to read words or letters from a distance to determine the sharpness of your vision. Each eye will be tested independently.
• Slit-Lamp Exam
This involves the use of a special microscope that has a bright light which allows the doctor to examine different parts of the eye. They will first take a look at the cornea (the outer, clear layer). They will also check out the iris, then the lens sitting behind it.
• Retinal Exam
This test involves putting drops in your eyes to widen your pupils. This allows the doctor to observe the retina in detail to see whether you have cataracts.
Either of these tests should tell whether you have cataracts.
Even though there is no way to prevent cataracts from developing, there are certain things you can do to slow their development.
This involves working against factors that encourage the formation of cataracts. These include smoking, excessive alcohol intake, high blood pressure, and obesity.
You can also slow their development by protecting your eyes from direct sunlight.
While various visual correction techniques can nullify the effects of cataracts during their early stages, later on, you are likely to need surgery.
Surgery is the only known technique for successfully treating cataracts through removal. The procedure involves replacing your natural lens with an intraocular lens.
Basics of Cataract Surgery
Approximately 3 million cataract surgeries are performed every year in the United States. The procedure has a high success rate.
During the surgery, the lens inside your eye that has become misty or cloudy due to cataracts is removed. It is replaced by an artificial lens that is known as an intraocular lens (IOL). This helps restores clear vision.
The surgery is typically done as an outpatient treatment. Therefore, you will not have to stay in the hospital or care facility overnight.
Today, cataract surgery procedures often utilize a high-frequency ultrasound device that disintegrates the cloudy lens into tiny pieces.
Those pieces are then gently extracted from the eye via suction. This procedure is known as phaco (phacoemulsification).
This is an improvement on older surgical cataract removal techniques in that it utilizes smaller incisions. This allows for faster healing in addition to lowering the risk of cataract surgery induced complications such as retinal detachment.
When all the fragments of the faulty lens have been extracted from the eye, the surgeon will then insert a clear intraocular lens.
They position it securely behind pupil and iris, in the place that was previously occupied by your natural lens.
There are times when the artificial lens might be position before the pupil and iris. Nonetheless, such instances are rare.
Your surgeon will then complete the cataract removal and intraocular lens implantation procedure by covering the incision in the eye.
This might or might not require the use of stitches. They will then place a protective shield over the eye to ensure its safety during the early stages of your recovery from surgery.
Laser Cataract Surgery
In recent times, the FDA has approved the use of femtosecond lasers for cataract surgery. The use of these lasers reduces the reliance on surgical blades and other handheld tools. They work in the following way:
• Create incisions that allow the doctor to access to your lens
• Remove the front capsule of the lens
• Fragment the cataract, so less energy is needed to disintegrate and extract it.
Laser surgery reduces the chances of corneal swelling and improves accuracy during the surgical steps.
How to Prepare for Cataract Surgery
Before you get the surgery, your Ophthalmologist will perform an extensive eye examination to evaluate the overall health of your eyes.
This allows them to determine whether it is safe for you to undergo surgery through the identification of potential risk factors.
The doctor might also have to perform refraction to accurately figure out the amount of far-sightedness, near-sightedness, or astigmatism that you have before undergoing the procedure.
They may also take other eye measurements to determine the length of your eye as well as the curvature of your cornea.
The importance of taking these measurements is that they help your surgeon to determine the most appropriate intraocular lens to fit you with so that you can have the best possible vision following the procedure.
Today, there are different intraocular lens options to choose from, and your specific needs typically determine the one you go for.
As such, some IOLs are specific for farsightedness and shortsightedness. Lenses for people with astigmatism have also been developed and are known as toric intraocular lenses.
If you are not against wearing glasses following the surgery, the surgeon will typically utilize a monofocal lens.
Nonetheless, for most people, the only time they will need glasses is during reading, even if they have received a monofocal intraocular lens.
However, if you do need prescription eyeglasses – which is often the case if it is only one eye undergoing the procedure -, the surgeon typically prescribes new eyeglasses for you about one month after the procedure.
Take that time to decide whether you should get glasses or contacts.
For individuals looking to be less dependent on eyeglasses following the surgery, your doctor can adjust the power of one of the monofocal intraocular lenses.
This will correct presbyopia and thus, minimize your need for reading glasses. It does this by giving you a monovision correction.
Another route you could take would be to opt for one of those presbyopia-correcting intraocular lenses which improve your reading sight without affecting your distant sight.
Presbyopia-correcting intraocular lenses include multifocal intraocular lenses and accommodating intraocular lenses.
Both lenses are designed to offer a superior range of vision following cataract surgery than conventional monofocal lenses.
Nonetheless, these advanced presbyopia-correcting intraocular lenses can be costly. Thus, a needs/budget analysis is necessary when making the decision.
What to Expect
In addition to educating you about the different options you have in intraocular lenses, your surgeon will also inform you about what you can expect during and after your cataract surgery.
This information can either be given in writing, orally, via video presentation, or a combination of the three. The purpose of feeding you this information is to ensure that you make a knowledgeable decision regarding whether to proceed with the procedure.
In the event that you have any concerns or inquiries regarding the procedure, it is critical that you share them with the surgeon and eye doctor.
Moreover, it is also essential that you discuss with the physicians about any medications, supplements, or formulations that you might be taking.
This is because some supplements and medicines can increase the risks of developing cataract surgery complications.
Therefore, their use needs to be discontinued before going through the procedure. This is why it is important to let your surgeon know about any medical condition you might have before the surgery.
Recovery from Cataract Surgery Procedure
As mentioned earlier, cataract surgeries are usually outpatient procedures. This is because a typical cataract surgery procedure takes about 15 minutes.
Also, the surgeon will perform a post-operative evaluation and give you recovery guidelines before you can leave.
When going home, ensure that you have arranged someone to drive you. You should not attempt to drive or operate any other kind of large machinery post-surgery.
Wait until your eye doctor tests your vision and gives you the go-ahead.
Therefore, make sure you have someone with you as you undergo surgery.
To help you with recovery, your physician will prescribe medicated eye drops.
You are going to use them several times a day for a couple of weeks after the surgery. You will also be asked to ensure that you wear your protective eye shield whenever you nap or sleep for about a week after the operation.
As your eyes recover, they will need protection from sunlight and other sources of bright light. You will be given special post-operative sunglasses for that purpose.
As your eye recovers, you might experience symptoms such as blurred vision and eye redness for a few days or weeks following the operation. These are normal and will fade away as you heal.
What to Avoid
During the first few weeks post-surgery, ensure that you avoid the following:
• Engaging in heavy lifting or any strenuous activity.
• Any movements that might put a strain on your healing eye.
• Splashing water into the eye as that might cause infection.
• Involving in activities that can expose the healing eye to contaminants such as dust and grime.
The surgeon should give you more detailed instructions regarding how to handle yourself during recovery.
If cataract surgery must be done for both eyes, the surgeon will typically recommend that you have a few weeks in between procedures.
This allows room for the first eye to have healed sufficiently and have obtained proper vision before surgery is performed on the second.
Have you been experiencing cloudy or misty vision lately? The Magruder Eye Institute has been helping Central Florida’s residents to find solutions for their vision problems for over fifty years.
Contact us today and allow us to assist you.