Nearly everyone experiences an eye problem at some point in life.
When the eyes are healthy, they focus the light that passes through the pupil to the retina at the back of the eye, allowing us to focus. Cataracts cloud the lens. The hazy lens prevents light from passing to the retina, impairing or dimming the vision. Once the cataract starts, it gradually increases the amount of light it blocks.
While most cataracts are age-related, some form due to other reasons. Such cataracts are much less common than age related ones.
Babies or children may develop congenital cataracts due to birth defects or heredity. Occasionally, a child forms cataracts for no obvious reason.
Eye surgery or chronic diseases are other causes of cataracts.
Medications, particularly steroids and diseases such as diabetes increase the risk of cataract formation.
Trauma that results in an eye wound can start the formation of a cataract. These cataracts may advance slowly.
Smoking, obesity, hypertension, prolonged exposure to sunlight and heredity also increase one’s chances of developing cataracts.
Cataracts are diagnosed by an ophthalmologist who examines the eyes by dilating the pupils using medication in the form of eye drops. He uses a slit-lamp to examine the cornea, lens and iris, as well as the space between the lens and iris. The doctor uses an ophthalmoscope, a special microscope, that allows the doctor to look for details and check for abnormalities. While the pupil is dilated, the doctor examines the retina and looks for diseases including glaucoma and cataracts. He also examines the retina and optic nerve. Additionally, the patient undergoes a standard vision acuity test, that involves evaluating the eyes using various sizes of letters.
If your doctor discovers cataracts, but you want to avoid surgery, you may have a few options. Depending on the severity of the condition, a simple change in prescription lenses may help you to see better.
Once you reach age 65, have an annual eye exam.
Protect your eyes from the sun by wearing a hat and choosing sunglasses designed to block 99 % of ultraviolet rays.
Lose some weight. Your primary care physician can offer some tips to help.
If the cataracts cause halos or blur your vision after dark, limit your night driving.
If you find reading difficult, try using a magnifying glass.
Avoid any eye drops that claim to cure cataracts, as drops cannot cure the condition.
When the vision changes become too bothersome, see your ophthalmologist. Cataracts are easily treated with surgical removal. If the condition changes your lifestyle, you have the option of a simple surgery. Prior to the operation your doctor will perform tests. He will measure the curve of the cornea and size of the eye so he can choose the correct lens.
If you have had eye surgery such as Lasik in the past, it does not prevent cataracts, but you should let the surgeon know your medical history.
It is also important to inform the surgeon of any medications you take, including supplements and sleep aids. Some medications can slow the healing process. The doctor may prescribe eye drops for a few days after the surgery to help prevent infection.
Cataract surgery is generally quick and painless. The doctor makes a very small incision next to the cornea in the front of your eye. He then uses high-frequency ultrasound to break up the cataract before suctioning it away. He replaces the damaged lens with an intraocular lens (IOL). IOLs may be made of plastic, silicon or acrylic. As healing occurs, light begins passing through the new lens so it can focus on the retina and your vision starts to clear within a few days. To protect the new lens, the doctor places a protective shield over the eyes. He also provides wraparound sunglasses. After a short rest in the recovery, patients are ready to head home. However, every patient is required to have someone else to drive them home, as they are restricted from driving immediately after the procedure.
During the week after surgery you should:
-Avoid touching the eye
-Wear your shield continually
-Put on the provided sunglasses if in bright light
-Avoid lifting, bending or any strenuous exercise
-Protect the eye from water and dirt
It is normal for the vision to be blurry for a few days after surgery. If you experience pain, call your doctor immediately.
As with any surgery, there are some risks:
-The surgical site could become infected
-The retina or cornea or retina could swell
-The retina could detach
-You could experience glaucoma
-There could be hemorrhaging in the eye
Your insurance or Medicare sometimes helps with the cost of cataract surgery. Always check with your surgeon if you have questions about the surgery or expense when making your plans.