EYE CARE

What Is Cataract Surgery?

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
 | 
March 28, 2017

The only way to correct a cataract, cataract surgery is very common and is one of the safest and most effective types of eye surgery performed.

When your vision becomes very cloudy you might have cataracts, and it may be time for surgery.

What is a cataract?

Having a cataract is like trying to look at objects through a dense fog. Your eyes’ lenses have become cloudy, but a clear lens is needed to focus light that comes into your eye and hits the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of your eye. Once it reaches the retina, light is changed into nerve signals that are sent to your brain.

 

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The lens is made up of mostly water and protein, but as we age, the protein, which is arranged in a precise way, begins to clump up and clouds a small portion of the lens. Over time, your vision grows cloudier as this process continues.

Surgery is the only way to correct a vision problem caused by a cataract. Cataract surgery is very common and is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery performed. In 90 percent of cases, patients have better vision afterwards, according to the National Eye Institute.

What is cataract surgery?

The surgery is an outpatient procedure that normally takes less than an hour.

A cataract is detected through a visual acuity test, an eye exam in which your pupils are dilated, and tonometry, a procedure that uses an instrument to measure the pressure inside your eye.

If you and your doctor agree on cataract surgery, he will measure the curve of your cornea and the size and shape of your eye in order to choose the right type of intraocular lens  (IOL), a clear artificial lens that replaces your natural crystalline lens, Kierstan Boyd writes for American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Once your eye has been numbed (you remain awake throughout the procedure), a small incision is made in the side of the cornea and a tiny probe is inserted. The probe emits ultrasound waves that soften and break up the lens into little pieces so it can be suctioned out. This process is called phacoemulsification, writes the American Optometric Association (AOA).

After your surgeon removes the natural lens, he generally replaces it with an IOL through the incision. The artificial lens works like your natural lens, focusing light onto the back of the eye. The incision is so small, sutures aren’t needed and it’s self-healing.

Different types of lenses can be used, but the most common is a monofocal lens, which has the same power in all areas. Newer monofocal lenses can give patients good distance and near vision while eliminating the need for glasses.

Astigmatic, or toric, lenses correct astigmatism in patients who want to reduce it.

Multifocal lenses are like bifocals. Different areas of the lens have different powers, which allow individuals to see clearly at far, intermediate, and near distances. However, these multifocal lenses aren’t for everyone. They can cause more problems with night vision and glare than monofocal IOL lenses, according to the AOA.

What to expect after cataract surgery

You go home soon after the surgery is completed and are prescribed medications that are applied in drops to prevent infection. Often, your eye is healed completely within eight weeks.

During this healing time, there are several follow-up visits, including the next day, within a week, and then in another two to three weeks.

Once your eyes have healed, you’ll see an optometrist for glasses or contact lenses for the best vision. Most people wear glasses after cataract surgery, at least for some activities.

Cataracts are common. By the time they reach age 80, more than half of Americans will either have a cataract or have undergone cataract surgery. In the U.S., more than 3.5 million cataract surgeries are performed each year.

The number of cataract surgeries is rising every year, and the median age of the surgery patient is falling. Between 1980 and 2010, the cataract surgery rate had increased five times, and there is no evidence this is slowing, writes John Welsh.

“Boomers are deciding to undergo cataract surgery earlier than previous generations,” adds Welsh. “Among the reasons: the surgery is safer, with fewer complications, than in the past. Patients know that and are often unwilling to wait for the cataract to worsen before choosing surgery.”

 

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Updated:  

March 28, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN