Understanding Cataracts Today

Published by: Dr. Robert Castrovinci

When my grandmother had cataract surgery many decades ago, she was in the hospital for a week, returned home and was required to stay in bed in a dark room for several weeks and then, finally after a couple of months, was able to get cataract glasses.  How things have changed!  Today cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure and most patients can return to their usual activities within 24 hours.

How did this occur?

Over the last 25 years remarkable changes in microsurgery and lens implant technology have taken the very common problem of cataract and allowed many people to enjoy better vision without serious interruption in their daily life.  Today all cataract surgery is done through tiny incisions from which the cataract is extracted and a permanent lens implant displaced.  Typically, no sutures are required.  Most people are surprised that there is no discomfort from the operation or the healing process itself. 

Cataracts can be part of the normal aging process of the eye, affecting 80% of people over age 60.  What causes cataracts?

Cataracts can be part of the normal aging process of the eye, affecting 80% of people over age 60.  Although cataracts can occur in people who are younger with certain chronic diseases, on certain medications or due to injury, this is a less common cause. 

Technically any cloudiness of the human lens is considered a cataract. Cataracts are not growths over the eye. Most people over age 40 do have some slight cataract formation which often causes no difficulty with their vision. However when the cataract increases to the point where vision is distorted or blurred, most people will elect to have cataract surgery.

Does everyone get cataracts?

No, not everyone will develop a visually significant cataract in their lifetime. However if you have cataracts that impair your ability to drive, work or read then no treatment other than surgery would be helpful in correcting your vision.

What are some of the symptoms that cataracts cause?

The earliest symptoms of cataracts are troublesome glare or decreased vision for night driving.  Often trouble with driving under bright or sunny conditions occurs.  Some people describe their vision like "looking through a film or veil".  Sometimes people have difficulty with vision in general including near tasks and reading.  So many of my patients complain about their inability to see the printing on their TVs that I often quip "Maybe it's time for a bigger TV".  Although none of the symptoms necessarily mean you have a cataract, you should consult with your eye care doctor to make sure it is nothing more serious.

There are over two and a half million cataract operations performed annually in the United States. In fact, with the number of people over 65 increasing in the United States over the next few years, the number of operations will continue to increase. Typically once a cataract is removed it does not return. Since cataracts are a medical condition, it is covered by insurance including Medicare. This surgery, in the hands of an experienced cataract surgeon, has a success rate of about 99%.

Why are lens implants used?

The normal lens of the eye provides a high degree of focusing power. Once it is removed from the eye it becomes very difficult to see. In the United States, after the late 1970s, cataract surgery was typically done with a lens implant. With current technology, the power of the lens implant that is used for a person's eye can be calculated fairly closely to what is needed for good vision.

Today's lens implants are made of a special surgical plastic which allows it to be folded and inserted through a tiny incision.  Once inserted in your eye, the lens implant is permanent, never requiring replacement.  Since they are within the eye itself, touching or rubbing your eye will not cause the lens implants to move.

What can I expect to happen when I go for cataract surgery?

On the day of surgery, you would report to the outpatient surgery center approximately an hour and a half before your operation.  The nurses would put special dilating drops in the eye that will be having surgery.  An anesthesia specialist will go with you to the operation.  Typically most patients receive only mild sedation for their surgery.

The actual cataract operation typically takes about 15-20 minutes.  After the operation is completed, you return to the recovery area and, when directed by the nurses, a friend or relative can take you home.  During the healing process, you will be using eyedrops several times a day. On the day of surgery it is advised that you stay indoors, preferably with your eyes closed.  You would be checked the following day by your doctor.  Most people can resume their usual activities within 24 hours of their surgery.  If you will require glasses after your operation, those would be prescribed a few weeks after your eye is healed.

In summary, modern cataract surgery is not only safe but typically pain-free and within 24 hours you would be able to resume your usual activities. In the hands of an experienced cataract surgeon, cataract surgery has a success rate of over 99%.  If your blurred vision is caused by cataracts, please speak with your eye doctor about appropriate treatment.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Robert Castrovinci, contact Divine Savior Healthcare Ophthalmology Clinic at:       

Phone: 608 745-5919
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