Cataracts are a common cause of vision loss but are easily treated by a qualified ophthalmologist. August is Cataract Awareness Month, a reminder that cataract surgery can clear up your eyesight and improve your quality of life.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, half of the people between age 52 and 64, and almost everyone over the age of 75, will have a cataract. Another way to look at it is that one in seven people in the United States has a cataract.
What Is a Cataract?
A cataract is a clouding in the lens of your eye. The onset of the condition is slow and usually related to aging. Other causes are congenital birth defects, alcoholism, diabetes mellitus, eye injury, smoking, and long-time exposure to ultra-violet (UV) light.
How Would I Know If I Had a Cataract?
Visual problems are not apparent in the beginning stages of a cataract. When they appear, you may have the following symptoms:
* A gradual blurring of your eyesight. * Poor distance vision. * A fading or yellowing of colors. * Double vision in the affected eye. * A heightened sensitivity to light. * Trouble seeing well enough to drive at night. * Frequent need for changes in eyeglass prescriptions.
How Are Cataracts Treated?
At the onset of cataracts, high magnification glasses may improve vision, but there are no medications or eye-drops that will help. Some people think that a cataract needs to be "ripe" before it can be removed, but this is not true. Instead, cataracts are removed when they interfere with normal activities of daily living.
Ophthalmic surgeons remove cataracts under local anesthesia in the outpatient area of a hospital or in special, stand-alone clinics. They take the cataract out through a tiny slit at the edge of the sac that contains the clouded lens. They usually use "phacoemulsification," a process that liquefies the lens so it can be withdrawn through a needle and syringe.
A clear plastic replacement lens (the intraocular lens) is inserted in the sac and the incision is sewn up with a suture that dissolves later. Other procedures are also used, so you should discuss your own case with your surgeon. The common misconception that lasers are used in cataract surgery is not true. Fortunately, cataract surgery is covered by insurance and Medicare.
What Will I Be Able to Do After Surgery?
Patients can go home as soon as they are stable. You should avoid heavy activity and avoid rubbing the affected eye. Other instructions depend on the physician's preferences. Most cataract surgeries are successful, but a few complications are possible, so be sure to follow up with the surgeon postoperatively.
You will probably be happy with the results of your surgery. However, be aware that cataract surgery will not help other eye problems you may have, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, or eye problems related to diabetes.
What Type of Doctors Perform Cataract Surgery?
Cataracts require medical intervention, so it is important that you go to a board-certified ophthalmic surgeon, rather than to an optometrist, when you suspect a cataract. Doctors with the initials "F.A.C.S." behind their names have demonstrated their knowledge and skills and are board- certified.
Where Can I Find Further Information?
Try these websites:
* The American Academy of Ophthalmology http://www.medem.com/MedLB/articleslb.cfm?sub_cat=119
* The American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery http://ascrs.org/eye/eye.html
* The National Eye Institute http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/index.htm
* Prevent Blindness America http://www.preventblindness.org/eye_problems/cataractFAQ.html