What are Cataracts?
Nearly 21 million adults in the U.S. have cataracts. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40 and is the principal cause of blindness in the world. Cataracts are a continuous clouding of the lens of the eyes, which can cause loss of vision. A cataract is frequently misunderstood as a growth or “skin” over the lens of the eye, but it is not something that can be “peeled” off. Cataracts occur on the inside of the lens and can be defined as a cloudiness that obstructs vision by scattering light as it moves through the eye into the retina. This disbanding of light causes images to appear blurred, loss of contrast, starburst, or glare.
What Causes Cataracts?
Normally, cataracts are due to the normal human aging process and usually develop in a person’s sixties or seventies. Cataracts can, however exist from birth or develop at a younger age. Cataracts can also be caused by eye trauma, diabetes, or inflammation in the eye. Normally, cataracts develop in both eyes, but they can progress at different speeds.
What is Cataract Surgery?
Cataract surgery is a procedure to remove the lens of the eye and typically, replace the clouded lens (cataract) with an artificial lens. When cataracts cloud the normally clear lens of the eye, an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) may recommend cataract surgery, which is a very common and generally safe procedure. The ophthalmologist performs cataract surgery as an outpatient procedure, which means the patient can go home the day of surgery.
Why Have Cataract Surgery?
An eye doctor (ophthalmologist) performs cataract surgery on a patient to treat their cataracts, which can produce blurred vision and augment the glare from lights. A doctor may suggest cataract surgery if the patient’s cataracts make it strenuous to carry out their normal activities. A patient may also need cataract surgery when cataracts hinder the treatment of other eye problems, like age-related macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, for instance. In other words, cataracts may cause the ophthalmologist difficulty in examining the back of the eye to monitor or treat other important eye conditions.
Usually, postponing cataract surgery will not cause any further damage to the eye, so the patient has time to contemplate their options. If a patient’s vision is only minimally hindered or still quite clear, they may not need cataract surgery for many years after diagnosis or ever, depending on their situation.
When a patient is considering cataract surgery, a few questions should be asked:
- Can you see to safely drive and do your job?
- Is it difficult to read or watch the television?
- Is it hard to climb stairs, take medications, cook, do yard work, or shop?
- Is it difficult to clearly see faces?
- Do vision problems modify your level of independence?
- Do bright light make it harder to see?
Overall, if blurred vision inhibits a patient’s enjoyment of activities that they value or puts them at any risk when performing daily activities, surgery for cataracts may be a good option.
Risks and Complications of Cataract Surgery
Generally cataract surgery is a very safe procedure, and problems after surgery are very uncommon. Most complications of cataract surgery can be successfully treated. Cataract surgery risks include:
- Secondary cataract
- Retinal detachment
- Vision loss
If the patient has any serious medical condition or another eye disease, they may be at an increased risk for complications following cataract surgery. Periodically, cataract surgery fails to improve vision due to underlying injury to the eye from other eye conditions like glaucoma, or macular degeneration. If feasible, it may be advantageous to treat other existing eye problems before undergoing cataract surgery.
Read about Cataract Surgery.