Cataracts: Seeing beyond the blur
- Blurry of foggy vision
- Colors appear dull or muted
- Glasses no longer seem to work
- Sunlight of light seems overly bright or glaring
- Decreased night vision or see halos around lights
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you may have cataracts: a clouding of your eye’s natural lens that affect many of us as we age. Cataracts are the leading cause of visual loss in adults 55 and over.
Fortunately, we live in a time when there are so many choices of lenses and the results can be extraordinary. Depending upon when you choose, you may be able to see near, far, and everywhere in between, with little or no need for glasses or contact lenses.
How We See
Our eyes work just like a camera. When we look at an object, light rays reflect off that object and enter our eyes through the cornea. The lens behind the cornea focuses the rays onto the retina, which, in turn, converts the rays into electrical impulses that travel through the optic nerve to the brain. The brain converts the electrical impulses into images. Seeing depends on this entire chain of events. But seeing clear, focused images depends largely on the lens.
Common Vision Problems
Myopia, Hyperopia, Presbyopia, or Astigmatism require the use of bifocal or “progressive” lenses to see clearly both near and far. The important thing to remember is that cataract surgery can often correct one or more of these at the same time. This means it may be possible for you to gain clear vision with little to no need for glasses or contact lenses.
MYOPIA (NEARSIGHTEDNESS): People who are nearsighted can see up close, but have difficulty seeing objects at a distance. Myopia is typically caused by an eye that is too long, which causes light to focus in front of the retina.
HYPEROPIA (FARSIGHTEDNESS): Farsighted people can see objects at a distance, but have difficulty seeing up close. Hyperopia is typically caused by an eye that is too short, which causes light to focus behind the retina.
PRESBYOPIA: Presbyopia is an age-related condition that blurs near vision. It’s caused by a gradual loss of flexibility in the eye’s natural lens and surrounding muscles.
ASTIGMATISM: Sometimes the surface of the cornea is curved more like a football than a basketball, with both flatter and steeper curves. This common irregularity, called “corneal astigmatism,” causes blurred or distorted vision. This occurs when light rays are not focused at one spot to provide clear vision.
Cataracts: A Natural Part of Aging
Cataracts are the leading cause of visual loss in adults 55 and over. A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens inside your eye. This lens, located behind the iris, works just like the lens of a camera- focusing light images on the retina, which sends images to the brain. The human lens can become so clouded it prevents light and images from reaching the retina.
A cataract can be the reason sharp objects become blurred, bright colors become dull, or seeing at night is more difficult. It may also be why reading glasses or bifocals that used to help you no longer seem to be effective. Vision with cataracts has been described as seeing life through old, cloudy film.
But a cataract is not a “film” over the eye, and neither diet nor lasers will make it go away. Nor can it be prevented. Eye injury, certain diseases, or even some medications can cause clouding, but the majority of cataracts are simply a result of the natural aging process. The best way to treat a cataract is with surgery that removes the old, clouded lens and replaces it with a new artificial one to reclaim your vision and, in many ways, significantly improve your quality of life.
CATARACT SURGERY: CLARITY IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE
Cataract removal is one of the safest and most effective surgical procedures. In fact, more than 3 million (data on file. Alcon Labs, Inc.) cataract surgeries are performed each year in the United States. The operation entails making a tiny incision in the eye and inserting an instrument about the size of a pen tip to break up and remove the cloudy lens. Once the cloudy lens is removed, a cataract replacement lens or intraocular lens is inserted through the same tiny incision and set into its permanent position.
WHAT TO EXPECT BEFORE AND AFTER SURGERY (includes image from brochure)
Most people are surprised to find out just how easy and relatively pain-free cataract surgery is. It usually takes 30 minutes or less and most patients are back to their normal activities the very next day. The following facts will help you prepare for surgery:
- An anesthetic will be given to numb the nerves in and/or around your eye.
- Before and/or after surgery, your doctor may prescribe eye drops to help prevent infection and reduce swelling.
- Most patients have improved vision soon after surgery, but your sight may continue to improve for several days or weeks.
What is an IOL?
An intraocular lens (IOL) is an artificial lens that’s implanted during cataract surgery. The good news is that you’ve encountered cataracts at a time when intraocular lens technology has taken great leaps of progress.
Traditionally, monofocal IOLs were used for cataract surgery. This type of lens is very effective at restoring functional distance vision. However, people still need glasses to correct for near vision, and glasses or additional surgery to correct any existing astigmatism.
Recent advances have been so significant that new-generation lenses could allow you to see near, far, and everywhere in between, usually without the help of glasses, bifocals, or reading glasses.
Following are the three types of lenses currently available and what each is designed to do for your vision:
- Monofocal lenses, such as the AcrySof® IQ IOL, have one point of focus and can usually give you clear distance vision. While distance vision is improved, most patients still need to wear glasses for certain tasks, such as reading or working at a computer but, if you have a corneal astigmatism, you may need to wear glasses for distance.
- Multifocal lenses, such as the AcrySof® IQ ReSTOR® IOL, are designed to replace cataracts and correct presbyopia at the same time. Their goal is to give you a full range of clear visio, near to far, and everywhere in between.
- Astigmatism-correcting lenses, such as AcrySof® IQ Toric IOL, are for patients with existing corneal astigmatism. Similar to monofocal lenses, these lenses usually give patients quality distance vision with less dependence on glasses. Most patients will still need to wear glasses for tasks such as reading or working at a computer.
The correct lens for you will depend on your eyes and your desire to be glasses-free. Your doctor will review your options and explain what you can expect from each one.
Cataracts can dramatically affect everything you see and do. But they don’t have to. With a simple procedure, you can lift the fog and get back to seeing and doing what you love. Colors can appear rich and vibrant, and everything you look at can be in clear focus.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TREAT CATARACTS?
Many people believe cataracts have to be “ripe” before they can be removed. This is no longer true. Today, cataract surgery is a routine procedure that can be performed as soon as your vision interferes with the quality of your life.
WHAT HAPPENS IF CATARACTS GO UNTREATED?
Over time, the clouded areas of your lens can become larger and denser, causing your sight to become worse. This could take anywhere from a few months to many years. Eventually, your entire lens can cloud over and cause blindness.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH LENS IMPLANT IS RIGHT FOR ME?
No single lens works best for everyone, and only your eye doctor can determine the most appropriate option for you. Overall, patients who chose the multifocal over the monofocal intraocular lens have expressed greater satisfaction with the increased quality of living. Passengers could become drivers again, and golfers could keep their eye on the ball while enjoying the surrounding scenery.
DO ALL LENSES LET YOU SEE DIFFERENT DISTANCES?
No, only the multifocal lenses such as the AcrySoft® IQ ReSTOR® IOL give you a full range of clear vision, near to far, and everywhere in between.
CAN CATARACTS COME BACK?
Once a cataract has been removed it cannot return. So the lens you choose is the one you will usually have for the rest of your life. However, over time, patients may complain that their vision has once again become cloudy. This condition is knows as a secondary cataract. It can be easily and rapidly treated by a simple laser procedure performed in the office.
WHO PERFORMS CATARACT SURGERY?
Only ophthalmologists who have had special training in eye surgery can perform cataract surgery.
HOW SUCCESSFUL IS CATARACT SURGERY?
Cataract surgery has an overall success rate of 98% or greater. Continuous innovations in techniques and instruments have made the procedure safer than ever.
More information about cataracts and cataract surgery is available at the following websites: