Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss among people over 55. As a cataract progresses, you may notice a decrease in your clarity of vision that glasses or contact lenses cannot fully correct. You may also experience any of the following:
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Difficulty seeing at night, especially while driving
- Glare or sensitivity to bright lights
- A “halo” effect around lights
- Faded or yellowed colors
Cataract surgery is a safe and effective way to restore vision. It’s usually done on an outpatient basis and only requires a short recovery period. The surgeon generally completes the procedure in 15 to 30 minutes, and severe complications are rare. After cataract surgery, patients can resume most of their normal activities the following day. Restrictions after cataract surgery will be strenuous activity and heavy lifting (over ten pounds) for one week after.
The standard procedure for removing cataracts is Phacoemulsification, or “phaco”. Phaco reduces recovery time, as well as reducing the risks involved with larger incisions. The surgery replaces the patient’s cloudy natural lens with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens, or “IOL”. An IOL is a clear, plastic lens that requires no care and becomes a permanent part of the eye. New IOLs are introduced every year as the technology advances, so you and your surgeon will consider the best option during your measurement appointment that takes place prior to surgery.
- Preparation. The patient is given a mild sedative and the eye is cleansed. Drops are then added to dilate the pupil, and for comfort, an anesthetic injection or numbing eye drops are applied.
- Removing the old lens. A small incision is made on the side of the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. The surgeon inserts a tiny probe, which emits ultrasonic waves that soften and break up the lens so it can be removed by suction.
- Inserting the new lens. The surgeon uses the injector tool to place the IOL into the eye, typically behind the iris and pupil. The lens unfolds, is secured and is then adjusted by the surgeon to ensure correct alignment. One the surgery is complete, and a protective shield is placed over the eye to keep it safe in the early stages of recovery.
- Recovery. The incision is so small that it seals itself, so sutures are not always necessary. The patient can resume most normal activities the following day.
Any surgery has risks. One complication of cataract surgery is a secondary cataract. This occurs when there is scarring of the capsule that holds the new lens that was placed in the eye during cataract surgery. This is very common and can lead to blurring of the vision again after cataract surgery, resembling the symptoms of the original cataract. This can be easily treated using a laser to open the cloudy capsule. The procedure is called a YAG Capsulotomy, which is a quick and painless procedure.