One of the most common surgeries performed today is cataract surgery. Cataracts can occur at any age, however they typically occur to people older than 65. Other causes include trauma, certain medications, etc.
What is a cataract?
Inside the eyeball is a clear lens that supplies most of the power which enables the eye to focus. As we age, the lens becomes cloudy; this is what we term a “cataract.”
Most patients will report seeing a “film” over their vision. In the early stages of a cataract, a change in the spectacle prescription may be all that is needed to improve vision. Over a period of several years the cataract may increase. When vision becomes worse than 20/40 (the provincial limit to legally drive a car), even with corrective lenses, surgery is usually considered.
The surgery itself is performed by an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) at a hospital on an outpatient basis. During the surgery, the ophthalmologist makes small incisions in the cornea to remove the old, cloudy lens. It is replaced with a clear artificial lens.
Most patients find that after the surgery, their vision is significantly less hazy and colours are more brilliant. Vision usually stabilizes in approximately one month post-operatively. New spectacles may be prescribed to further enhance any vision loss.
One of the biggest misconceptions is cataracts are removed by laser. A laser is actually used to remove thin films of cells that can grow over the artificial lens. This can occur over a period of time after the original surgery.
Several cataract patients have asked me if they elect not to have the surgery, will they go blind? The answer is no, except in the case of infants who are born with cataracts. If you feel your vision is still acceptable despite the development of a cataract, then there is no urgency to have surgery.
In the last few years, there have been advancements in the type of artificial lens implants used during cataract surgery. The AcrySof implant is made of a patented acrylic material. This material helps to reduce the incidence of the films that can grow over the implant months or years after surgery. This new implant also blocks out shorter wavelength light which may reduce the incidence of macular degeneration.
More recently the Tecnis lens implant has been approved for use. This implant provides sharper vision in varying light conditions. It has been proven in studies to improve night-time driving vision. The Tecnis lens also reduces the incidence of the film that can grow on the implant when compared to the standard lens implant that is used.
The ReStor or ReZoom lens implants are also available. With traditional cataract surgery, reading glasses will almost always need to be prescribed after surgery. The ReStor or ReZoom implants attempt to reduce the dependency on reading glasses.
Cataract surgery is a very safe and effective procedure. However, there are risks and limitations that need to be discussed with your local optometrist or ophthalmologist if you decide to have it done. With improved technology, there are now options to consider when it comes to selecting the proper lens implant for your eyes.