Alamo Optometry Blog

June 7, 2011

Cataracts

Filed under: Uncategorized — gkblog @ 8:00 pm

(As appeared in Alamo Today, June 2011, pg. 28) 

            Since June is cataract awareness month, I think it is appropriate to discuss this normal aging condition with my patients.  The likelihood that you will experience some visual changes from cataracts increases as you get older.  Assuming you live to normal life expectancy, most everyone will feel the effects and most will need to have them removed.

            A cataract is the maturing of the lens which is inside of your eye; it cannot be seen just by looking at a person.  The lens continues to grow throughout life; as the lens ages, it becomes thicker and denser.  As this occurs, less light is able to pass through it, and thus decreases your vision.  In addition, as the lens becomes more opaque, your vision generally takes on a dulling, foggy, or yellowing effect.  The typical onset for early cataracts is in your 60’s to 70’s.  Everyone develops them at different paces, but such things as long-term UV exposure, diabetes, prednisone (steroid) use, and trauma can cause the process to be sped-up.  In the early stages, your distance prescription can sometimes shift to become more near-sighted.  It is during these times that just a simple prescription change in your glasses can help restore or improve your vision.  However, there becomes a point as the cataract progresses that changing your glasses make little or no improvement.  It is at this time that the limiting factor in the visual system is the cataract itself, not your glasses.  This is the point where I usually introduce the option of cataract surgery.

            Even though most people are scared or leery of surgery, cataract surgery is a very safe and quick procedure that restores most of your lost vision.  Cataract surgery is the most widely done procedure in the United States, and the numbers will just continue to climb as the baby boomers continue to age.  Keep in mind that even though it is done all of the time, that there are potential side-effects that need to be discussed with your doctor and/or surgeon.  The procedure itself takes less than 10 minutes, and you are not under general anesthesia.  I tell my patients that it generally takes longer in the operating room to prep you for the surgery than it does to actually perform it.  The incision is very small and does not require stitches, thus enabling a quicker recovery.  The surgeon will go into your eye with a tool that breaks up the cataract into small pieces and then remove these smaller pieces from the eye.  The clear implant that is put in folds up very small and can fit through the small incision.  If both eyes need to be done, only 1 will be done at a time.  The eye that is more advanced is generally done first, and after it is healed sufficiently, the other eye is done a few weeks later.

            Recently, there have been many new types of implantable lenses to choose from.  There is your standard single vision lens, which can be done for distance vision only or monovision, which is one eye distance and the other reading.  If you have monovision in your contact lens wear, then going to this setup after surgery should work well.  There are also multi-focal and accommodating lenses that help reduce your need for reading glasses.  These lenses, just like anything else, do have their pros and cons and absolutely need to be discussed with your optometrist and surgeon.  As always, we are here to answer any of your questions regarding surgical and non-surgical options.

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