A cataract is a common condition that causes vision loss due to a clouding of the lens of the eye. Cloudiness develops as a result of a buildup of protein in the lens that prevents light from reaching the retina. Cataracts affect millions of people each year, including more than half of all Americans 60 years of age and older.
CAUSES OF CATARACTS
The lens within the eye clouds naturally as we age, causing a gradual reduction of vision. There are numerous other causes of cataracts, including:
- Excessive alcohol use
- Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light
- Family history of cataracts
- Exposure to radiation
- 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. As cataracts progress patients may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Blurry or hazy vision
- Faded colors
- Double vision
- Poor vision in bright light
- Halos around lights
- Poor night vision
- Yellowish vision
- Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions
NON-SURGICAL TREATMENT OF CATARACTS
Early cataracts can sometimes be treated with non-surgical methods which may include:
- New eyeglass prescription
- Anti-glare sunglasses
- Magnifying lenses
- The use of stronger lighting
If cataracts begin to interfere with the ability to read, work, exercise or drive, cataract surgery may be recommended. During cataract surgery the clouded natural lens is replaced with a new artificial lens or intraocular lens.
Cataract surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that is typically performed on an outpatient basis using local anesthesia. The procedure takes approximately 30 minutes or less to complete and usually includes the implant of an artificial lens to replace the natural lens of the eye. While there are non-surgical methods that can be used to delay surgery, especially when the cataract is fairly new, the only effective cataract treatment is surgery. Dr. Magalhaes and Associates refer cataract patients to well trained eye surgeons: www.premiervisionconsultants.com.
TYPES OF CATARACT SURGERY
Currently, there are two approaches to cataract surgery that are being used. They are:
Phacoemulsification, also known as phaco, involves inserting a probe into a small incision made on the side of the cornea. The probe emits ultrasound waves that cause the lens to break into smaller fragments, which are then removed by suction. The thin outer membrane of the lens remains in tact.
Extracapsular surgery requires a larger incision in the cornea so that the lens may be removed in one solid piece. This procedure is usually performed when it is determined that the cataract is unable to be broken up by the phacoemulsification procedure.
RISKS OF CATARACT SURGERY
While rare, some of the risks of cataract surgery may include:
- Incomplete removal of the lens fragments
- Swelling of the cornea
- Retinal detachment
PRE-SURGICAL TESTING FOR CATARACT SURGERY
Serious eye conditions and medical history should be discussed with the physician prior to undergoing cataract surgery. Before the surgical procedure, the following tests may be conducted:
- Measuring the curve of the cornea
- Measuring the size and shape of the eye
THE CATARACT SURGERY PROCEDURE
Patients are asked not to eat or drink anything for 12 to 24 hours prior to surgery. At the surgical facility, drops are placed into the eye to dilate the pupil. Depending on the condition of the cataract, either the phacoemulsification or extracapsular procedure will be performed.
Once the natural lens has been removed, an artificial lens, also known as an intraocular lens or IOL, is implanted. The IOL is a clear plastic lens that focuses light onto the retina, improving vision. Some people with eye disease or other medical issues are unable to have an IOL implanted. Soft contact lenses or magnification glasses might provide an alternative.
POST-OPERATIVE CATARACT SURGERY CARE
Patients return home on the same day, but need an escort. Restrictions on activities will be provided by the doctor. Healing takes time and medication may be prescribed to prevent infection and control eye pressure. After the eye is fully healed, vision will be re-evaluated.