Cataract surgery is one of the most common eye surgeries performed in the United States every year, and we certainly perform more than our fair share here at Woolfson Eye Institute.
You’ve likely heard of cataracts, and even seen people in your family or circle of friends who have undergone the cataract procedure. That being said, many patients who may be a candidate for cataract surgery do not know what cataracts really are.
In this article, we are going to shed some light on the issue. We are also going to share with you the signs of cataracts, the treatments available, and the entire process from initial consultation to post-op care.
What are cataracts?
According to Prevent Blindness America, there are 22 million Americans over the age of 40 who have cataracts, and that number is expected to grow to over 30 million in the next five years. The problem certainly isn’t going away any time soon.
If you ask most people what a cataract is, the answer would be something like “a cloudy or hazy film that forms over the eye.” However, in actuality a cataract is when the natural lens inside your eye becomes cloudy.
In essence, protein deposits come together to create a “smudge” on the lens of your eye, much like a smudge on the lens of the camera. Unfortunately, you can’t just take a rag and some cleaner to get the smudge out of the lens of your eye (that would be a very bad idea!).
When the lens of the eye is cloudy, it cannot focus light correctly on the retina, which can lead to a decline or loss in vision, and cause a variety of visual disturbances.
What are the signs of a cataract?
For many patients, the first signs of a cataract are visual disturbances. These can include any or all of the following:
- Blurred or cloudy vision
- Loss of vibrancy, or changes in the way you see color
- Problems driving at night due to glare from headlights or road signs
- A phenomenon known as “second sight” where distance vision gets worse, but reading glasses are no longer required
- Dramatic, sudden changes in your glasses or contact lens prescription
If you are experiencing any of these issues, and think that your vision is being affected by a cataract or other eye problem, please contact the Woolfson Eye Institute location nearest you to schedule your evaluation.
What treatments are available for patients who have cataracts?
For some patients with mild cataracts, a change in prescription can improve vision, but this is just a temporary solution to a problem that will not go away on its own.
The primary treatment for patients who are affected by cataracts is surgery. Cataract surgery can either be performed manually or with a bladeless laser, and during the procedure, the old, cloudy lens is removed and a new, artificial lens is put in its place.
What does the cataract surgery process look like?
Whether you have a cataract in one eye or in both eyes, surgery is typically only performed on one eye at a time so that a patient is not trying to recover from surgery in both eyes at the same time.
You’ll want to start by allotting roughly 2-3 hours of your time for the surgery. The actual surgery takes only minutes, but additional time is required for preparation and recovery after the surgery.
Also, you want to make sure that you arrange transportation to and from your cataract surgery appointment, as you do not need to be driving immediately after surgery.
Preparation for cataract surgery involves a mild sedative, anesthetic or numbing drops that can make some patients feel a bit groggy. Once a patient is in the operating room, the skin around the eye will be cleaned with a disinfectant wipe, and special eye drops that dilate the pupil and prevent infection will be applied.
The first part of the procedure involves removing the old lens through a process called phacoemulsification.
In laymen’s terms, a device roughly the size of a pen tip is inserted through the cornea. Using high frequency sound waves, the cataract is broken up into small fragments that are immediately suctioned away.
This process clears the way for a new lens to be inserted, which will restore your vision and get rid of the cloudy vision you have been experiencing.
After the natural lens is removed, an intraocular lens (IOL) is inserted through the incision in the cornea using an injector tool. The lens is inserted right where the natural cataract lens used to be.
Slight adjustments are typically made to align the lens with the patient's astigmatism (based on measurements taken before surgery), and at that point the lens is in place and ready to go.
Patients may experience a feeling of pressure on the eye, but most patients do not describe the experience as painful or unpleasant in any way.
Cataract surgery, whether done manually or with a laser, is a relatively straightforward, simple procedure that can have a profound effect on your vision, and of course, your overall quality of life.
What can I expect in terms of recovery from my cataract surgery?
Our goal is to match each patient with the procedure that is best for them, and to minimize the risk of any complications. The side effects of cataract surgery are minimal, but may include the worsening of dry eye for a few weeks or even months following your cataract surgery procedure.
The dry eye is usually temporary, and goes away after a period of time. At Woolfson Eye Institute, we send all of our patients home with drops to help alleviate any discomfort associated with dry eye.
If you have any questions or concerns, you can always call our practice or schedule an appointment with your post-op care doctor.
As always, it is important to still see your eye care professional periodically for a routine exam and checkup. Just because you now have clear vision doesn’t mean you can stop going to the eye doctor!
Where can I learn more about cataract surgery at Woolfson Eye?
At Woolfson Eye Institute headquartered in Atlanta, GA (with additional locations around the Southeast), we see cataract patients on a daily basis, and match them with the corrective eye procedure that is best for their situation.
For more information on cataract surgery, please contact our location nearest you today.