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Cataracts

A cataract is the result of opacification or clouding of the crystalline lens of the eye. When the lens inside the eye loses its transparency, the abnormal lens is then referred to as a cataract. Common Misconceptions About Cataracts: Cataracts are NOT:

  • A film over the eye
  • Caused by "overusing" one's eyes
  • Able to spread from one eye to the other eye
  • A cause of irreversible blindness

What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

Common symptoms of cataracts include:

  • A painless blurring or decrease in vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Poor night vision
  • Starbursts or halos around bright lights or headlights
  • Double vision with one eye
  • Needing brighter light in order to read
  • A fading or yellowing of colors

What Causes Cataracts?

Most commonly cataracts develop through natural aging of the eye(s). As the aging process occurs, the lens becomes less elastic, takes on a yellowish hue, and begins to lose its transparency. As the lens becomes opaque or "cloudy," the individual needs brighter and brighter reading lights and visual clarity begins to decline. Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes and can form at different rates. This form of cataracts is known as senile cataracts. Without medical intervention, senile cataracts can lead to blindness.
Several factors can increase the likelihood of developing cataracts:

  • A family history of cataracts
  • Medical issues such as diabetes
  • A severe injury to the eye
  • Certain prescription medications: especially steroids
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Long-term, unprotected exposure to sunlight and UV rays
  • Previous eye surgery

How Quickly Do Cataracts Develop?

There is no exact time frame in which cataracts develop and every individual is different. In fact, it may even vary between left and right eyes. At this time, it is not possible to predict exactly how fast cataracts will develop in any person.

Generally speaking, age-related cataracts will develop gradually over a number of years before becoming apparent. However, in younger people with medical issues such as diabetes, the cataracts can progress rapidly in a short time. Certain conditions, such as cancer radiation treatments, steroid use, and severe eye injury can also accelerate cataract development.

How Are Cataracts Treated?

Cataract removal is the only "cure" for this condition and can only be accomplished with surgery. However, if your symptoms are not bothering you and are mild, surgery may be optional or postponed until the cataracts worsen.

For those with mild symptoms, a simple change in eyeglass prescription may temporarily help improve vision until cataracts become dense enough to require surgical removal.

No medications or exercises have been shown to prevent cataracts or treat cataracts. Protection from excessive sunlight and Vitamin C has been shown, however, to slow the progression of cataracts. Using sunglasses with UV protection or eyeglasses with anti-UV coating can help protect you eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays.

When Should I Have Cataract Surgery?

Surgery needs to be considered when cataracts begin to interfere with one's daily activities. If you have difficulty reading, writing, driving, performing your job, watching television, or performing any necessary tasks, you should contact your ophthalmologist's office for a cataract evaluation. Eye health care professionals and your doctor will perform a number or tests and examinations to objectively determine the effect your cataracts have on your vision. Your ophthalmologist can then determine whether surgery is appropriate and necessary at that time.

What Can I Expect From Cataract Surgery?

Once your ophthalmologist has determined that you require cataract surgery, you will schedule a surgery date and a preoperative appointment. The preoperative appointment is needed to collect the measurements necessary to perform the operation. The ophthalmic technical staff will explain the procedure to you and let you know what to expect on the day of surgery. Necessary measurements, such as the length of the eye (axial) and the dimensions of the cornea, will be taken to determine the prescription power of the artificial lens that will be implanted in the eye and used to replace the cataract. The artificial lens implant, known as an intraocular lens (IOL), must be used in order to replace the refractive power of the opacified lens and achieve clear, sharp vision. During your preoperative appointment you will receive a set of drops and instructions for their use the day of surgery and the weeks following surgery.

Cataract surgery is performed in a hospital setting and is an outpatient procedure. If you have a medical condition that may lead to complications, your doctor may request you be admitted overnight for observation. A nurse will give you a mild sedative to help you relax during the surgery as you will be awake throughout the procedure. You should be prepared to have a driver bring you to and from your surgery.

Three postoperative appointments will be scheduled for you at one day, one week, and six weeks after surgery. The one day postoperative appointment allows the doctor to check your vision, determine if there are any complications of surgery that need to be managed and ensures that the patient has the correct antibiotic drops and dosage instructions after the surgery. The one week postoperative appointment will be the first time that your vision will be tested to determine if glasses will be needed after surgery and is also allows your doctor to make sure that your eye is healing properly and that the drops are being used. At the final appointment, six weeks after surgery, you will be tested again for a glasses prescription and your doctor will determine if any correction is needed. Many patients have near perfect 20/20 vision following surgery and do not require any form of vision correction. Reading glasses, however, will still be required after surgery because the lens implant only corrects for distance vision. Recently developed implants that correct for both distance and near vision are now being used and can eliminate the need for reading glasses. This type of lens implant is now an option and your ophthalmologist can help you to determine whether this lens is right for you.

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