A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. The lens focuses light rays on the retina at the back of the eye to produce a sharp image of what we see. When the lens becomes cloudy, the light rays cannot pass easily through it, and the image becomes blurry.
When a cataract forms, the lens of the eye becomes thick and cloudy. Light cannot pass through it easily, and vision is blurred.
Cataracts usually develop as part of the aging process, but can also come from:
How can a cataract be treated?
The cataract may need no treatment at all if the vision is only a little blurry. A change in your eyeglass prescription may improve vision for a while.
There are no medications, eye drops, exercises or glasses that will cause cataracts to disappear once they have formed. When you are not able to see well enough to do the things you like to do, cataract surgery should be considered. Surgery is the only way to remove a cataract.
Cataracts cannot be removed with a laser, only through a surgical incision. In cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is removed from the eye. In most cases, the focusing power of the natural lens is restored by replacing it with a permanent intraocular lens implant.
What can I expect if I decide to have surgery?
Once you and your ophthalmologist (eye physician and surgeon) have decided that you will have your cataract removed, a physical examination is necessary so that he or she may be alerted to any special medical risks.
Ask your ophthalmologist if you should continue your usual medications.
Your eye will be measured to determine the proper power of the intraocular lens that will be placed in your eye during surgery.
The day of surgery:
Surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis. You may be asked to skip breakfast, depending on the time of your surgery. Upon arrival for surgery, you will be given eye drops, and perhaps medications to help you relax.
A local anesthetic will make the operation painless. Though you may see light and movement, you will not be able to see the surgery while it is happening, and will not have to worry about keeping your eye open or closed.
The skin around your eye will be thoroughly cleansed, and sterile coverings will be placed around your head. When the operation is over, the surgeon will often place a shield over your eye.
After a short stay in the outpatient recovery area, you will be ready to go home. You should plan to have someone else drive you home.
Following surgery you will need to:
How is the surgery done?
Under an operating microscope, a small incision is made into the eye. Microsurgical instruments are used to fragment and suction the cloudy lens from the eye. The back membrane of the lens (called the posterior capsule) is left in place.
A plastic intraocular lens implant will be placed inside the eye to replace the natural lens that was removed (see image at right). The incision is then closed. When stitches are used, they rarely need to be removed.
A plastic intraocular lens is placed inside the eye to replace the lens that was removed.
When is the laser used?
The posterior capsule sometimes turns cloudy several months or years after the original cataract operation. If this blurs your vision, a clear opening can be made painlessly in the center of the membrane with a laser (see image at right). Laser surgery is never part of the original cataract operation. A laser can make an opening in a cloudy lens capsule to restore normal sight.
Will cataract surgery improve my vision?
Over 95% of cataract surgeries improve vision, but a small number of patients may have problems.
Infection, bleeding and swelling or detachment of the retina are some of the more serious complications that may affect your vision.
Call your ophthalmologist immediately if you have any of the following symptoms after surgery:
Even if the surgery itself is successful, the eye may still not see as well as you would like. Other problems with the eye, such as macular degeneration (aging of the retina), glaucoma and diabetic damage may limit vision after surgery. Even with such problems, cataract surgery may still be worthwhile.
If the eye is healthy, the chances are excellent that you will have good vision following removal of your cataract.