A cataract is a change in the lens of the eye leading to cloudy spots or an opaque lens. This is a progressive condition that can take years to obstruct vision, but if left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness.
The lens of the eye is located behind the iris. The lens is responsible for refracting light into the back of the eye, onto the retina, which processes images through the optic nerve and into the brain. When something is wrong with the lens, images of the world will not be transmitted well into the brain. This can lead to fuzzy, blurry, colorless, or doubled images, depending on what is wrong with the lens.
In the case of cataracts, proteins in the lens are damaged, leading to clumps that eventually obstruct vision. While the condition is painless, it can be frustrating as it develops, and it can eventually be debilitating.
Millions of people develop cataracts, typically starting after age 40, with most developing around age 55. By 80 years old, around half of American adults either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery. Cataracts will develop in both eyes, but one will typically get worse than the other and need more immediate attention.
For the most part, it takes years for cataracts to reach a point that they require medical treatment. Most optometrists and ophthalmologists will monitor the progress of a cataract in annual exams unless vision suddenly and rapidly changes. There are some lifestyle changes you can make to slow down the cataract’s progress, but ultimately, all cataracts will need surgery.
Fortunately, cataract surgery has a high success rate, and with a little time to heal and adjust, most people regain vision enough to go about their daily lives without intrusion. About 22.3 million Americans have cataracts at some point, making it one of the most common eye conditions in the country.
There are many symptoms you may experience as a result of cataracts. If you notice any of these signs, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified clinicians for an exam that includes state-of-the-art diagnostic testing.
Most cataracts develop due to aging or injuries that change the functioning of your eye lens. Some risk factors that predispose to cataract formation include:
There are several factors influencing whether or not you are at risk of developing cataracts.
When you experience changes in your vision and you go for an eye exam, your doctor will run a series of tests and ask you several questions to understand more abut your condition. Some of the diagnostics will include:
Typically, your eye doctor will notice the cataract during a routine exam, or your vision will change enough that you will need to see a doctor for a diagnosis before your vision is severely impaired by the cataract. Most eye doctors will monitor the progress of the cataract before it becomes a very serious issue, so they will not immediately send you into surgery to replace the lens, but eventually, you will need to have your biological lens replaced with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL).
If you think you have a cataract or have been diagnosed with this condition, you’ll have questions about cataract treatment and surgery. Arm yourself with the knowledge to prepare to get the best surgical outcome — here are answers to frequently asked questions about cataract surgery.
It is surgery, but it’s not considered “major” by the medical community. In most instances, cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure.
The total process, from the time a patient enters the surgery center to when he or she leaves, is about three hours. The procedure itself typically takes less than 20 minutes.
At a separate Ambulatory Surgical Center here in Edmonds.
Generally, no, cataract surgery does not hurt. In addition to medication to relax you before your surgery, the anesthetist will numb your eye with anesthetic eye medication prior to the procedure.
An eye holder gently keeps the lid open during the procedure to prevent blinking. Although this may sound alarming, usually there is little to no sensation from the lid holder since the eye has been numbed prior to its use. The eye not receiving surgery can remain open or closed during the surgery and will not affect the eye undergoing surgery.
The most common side effect is clearer vision. Since cataracts block light, when they are removed the eye will detect more light and could feel more sensitive. There may be reduced pressure in the eye, as well. You may notice more floaters and there could be a dark crescent shape in the peripheral view, but the crescent shape usually goes away on its own in a few months.
The lens that the surgeon implants during cataract surgery is durable and will last a lifetime, according to Mayo Clinic. Sometimes the capsule that holds the lens can become cloudy, and the National Eye Institute calls it an “after-cataract.” If you have an after-cataract, a laser is used in the office to correct the cloudiness.
During cataract surgery, the clouded lens of your eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. Cataracts cannot grow back after the natural lens has been removed and replaced with an artificial lens.
That depends on several factors: the size of the cataract, your overall medical health, the health of the eye, and the type of anesthesia used in the procedure. Cataract surgery is designed to improve your vision, however, since it is incisional surgery there will be some impact on your vision immediately following the procedure. Most individuals see better within 24 hours and sight will get progressively better within a week following surgery.
After cataract surgery, most people will need glasses. Since surgery can change vision, your doctor will wait until your eyes are completely healed before writing a new prescription, which can take up to eight weeks following surgery.
When speaking to your doctor about cataract surgery, you may consider premium lenses that can solve vision problems like presbyopia or astigmatism and dramatically reduce the need for glasses.
No, you don’t have to wear sunglasses after cataract surgery. However, many find that they are more light-sensitive since more light is entering the eye post-surgery. Therefore, the decision to wear sunglasses after the procedure depends on your light sensitivity. Almost all modern implants have some UV protection built into the lens itself, but wearing regular protective sunglasses is still recommended.
Surgery requires an anesthetic, so you will have to arrange for a ride home following the procedure. You may be able to drive as soon as 24-hours after surgery.
It depends upon several factors, including the size of the cataract and the health of the individual. Your eye may feel itchy or sore immediately after the surgery. After a couple of days, most discomfort should disappear. Complete healing may take 4-6 weeks.
Wearing a protective shield while you sleep or nap is recommended for the first three days after surgery.
Do not wash your hair until the day after surgery and avoid getting water, soap, and other non-sterile matter into your eye for several days. However, you may shower and wash your hair as soon as the day after your surgery. Just be sure to keep your eyes closed during hair and face washing to avoid getting product in the treated eye.
Do not wear makeup around your eyes for at least a week and consider throwing out any partially used makeup to avoid infection.
Yes, but check with your insurance company to get a full understanding of any additional costs that may not be covered. The cost of surgery includes fees for the surgical suite, doctor, anesthesiologist, pre-surgery tests, post-surgery drugs, and follow-up visits with your doctor. You should be able to receive cost estimates to submit to your insurance company to find out how much they’ll pay and your portion of the expense. Premium lenses are often not covered by insurance.
If you are Medicare-eligible, it will pay for most of the cost of cataract surgery. Supplemental insurance usually covers 80% of the portion that Medicare doesn’t cover, which means the unpaid costs will be covered by you.