Cataracts are very common and symptoms are usually noticeable. But even though these symptoms are well known, patients may not attribute them to cataracts right away. Because of this, symptoms gradually increase in severity and can begin to interfere with a patient’s independence. If you can relate to the cataract story in the video below, it’s time to schedule an appointment.
In a mature cataract, the pupil, which normally appears black, will look grey or white.
As a cataract progresses, you may notice a decrease in your clarity of vision that glasses cannot fully correct. You may also experience:
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Difficulty seeing at night, especially while driving
- Sensitivity to bright lights
- A “halo” effect around lights
- Faded or yellowed colors
- Double vision in the affected eye
- A need to change your glasses or contact prescription frequently
Cataract surgery is a safe and effective way to restore vision. It’s usually done on an outpatient basis and only requires a short recovery period. The surgeon generally completes the procedure in 15 minutes, with patients only spending a few hours at the surgery center, and severe complications are rare. After cataract surgery, patients can resume most of their normal activities the following day.
The standard procedure for removing cataracts is “phaco,” or phacoemulsification. Phaco reduces recovery time, as well as reduces the risks involved with larger incisions. The surgery replaces the patient’s cloudy lens with an artificial lens called an IOL, or intraocular lens. An IOL is a clear, plastic lens that requires no care and becomes a permanent part of the eye. New IOLs are introduced every year as the technology advances, so you and your surgeon will consider the best option after a comprehensive eye exam.
How Cataract Removal Surgery Works
- Preparation. The patient is given a mild sedative and the eye is cleansed. Drops are then added to dilate the pupil, and an anesthetic shot or numbing eye drops are applied for comfort.
- Removing the old lens. A small incision is made on the side of the cornea (the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye). The surgeon inserts a tiny probe, which emits ultrasonic waves that soften and break up the lens so it can be removed by suction.
- Inserting the new lens. The surgeon uses the injector tool to place the IOL into the eye. The lens unfolds, is secured and is then adjusted by the surgeon to ensure correct alignment.
- Recovery. The incision is so small that it seals itself, so stitches are rarely necessary. The patient can often resume normal activities the following day.
Cataract Risk Factors
Any surgery has risks, but the risks for cataract surgery are very low. One complication of cataract surgery is a secondary cataract. This occurs when there is scarring of the capsule that holds the new lens that was inserted in the eye during cataract surgery. This is common and can lead to blurring of the vision again after cataract surgery, resembling the symptoms of the original cataract. This can be easily treated using a laser to open the cloudy capsule. The procedure is called a YAG capsulotomy and is a quick, painless procedure.