What is a cataract?

A cataract is formed when the natural lens, inside the eye becomes cloudy and/or darkened. The natural lens, also known as the crystalline lens, is clear in ones younger years, much like a brand new windshield. In addition, the lens is contained in a capsule within the eye. As the lens ages, it becomes cloudy and oftentimes darker, making images look blurred, fuzzy, and oftentimes makes night vision a problem. One might say looking through a cataract is like looking through a dirty windshield. For most individuals, cataracts are a progressive yet natural part of the aging process.

Cataracts are the number one cause of visual loss among adults 55 and older in this country. Medical diseases such as diabetes are associated with acceleration of cataract formation. Eye injuries, certain eye disorders, previous eye surgery (i.e. retinal detachment surgery) and certain medications can also cause cataract formation at an earlier age.

When one learns that they have cataracts, patients often think of a film or layer that has grown over their eyes, causing a decrease in vision. However, a cataract forms inside the eye, rather than on the eye.

Nowadays, patients with cataracts usually have a choice concerning their treatment. If the cataract is not very advanced, causing only minor decrements in visual acuity, a change in their glasses prescription or increased lighting while reading may be sufficient albeit temporary. However, if a cataract is causing significant impairment, such as night blindness, visual distortions, or less than legal vision for driving, cataract surgery is the only viable option for visual recovery.

In cataract surgery, the crystalline lens is removed from the eye through a very small incision, usually less than 3mm in width. The modern approach to lens removal is called phacoemulsification, where the lens is first broken down into smaller pieces and aspirated from the eye. After adequate lens removal, an artificial lens is inserted into the lens capsule and positioned into place. This artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL), is used to replace the natural lens and help to focus light within the eye. Modern cataract surgery allows the patient to go home about an hour after surgery, and most patients will notice an immediate improvement in their vision after surgery.

Prior to any surgical planning, it is essential for a patient to undergo a full dilated eye exam to rule out any other causes of visual loss. These causes could be from macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinal holes, or diabetic retinopathy. In addition, the ophthalmologist will perform measurements on the eye in order to determine what IOL power to use to replace the cataract. In standard cataract surgery, the IOL will correct one’s vision for distance, but reading glasses will be necessary for near vision. However, most ophthalmologists are offering new premium IOLs, where patient is able to see clearly for distance and near, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for reading glasses for most tasks. Although the premium IOLs are not covered by insurance, they may offer a new dimension of visual clarity. In addition, Laser Assisted Cataract Surgery is an excellent adjunct to modern Cataract Surgery, enabling the surgeon to correct astigmatism at the time of surgery with the laser, and pre-cutting the Cataract for ease of removal.

Call the Mack Eye Center now for a cataract evaluation!

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