Cataracts, the clouding of the natural eye lens, affects about 22 million Americans over age 40. In fact, it’s estimated by the time they reach age 80, more than half of Americans will have a cataract or will have had cataract surgery. In other words, if you live long enough, you’re likely to be affected by cataracts.
The only treatment for cataracts is surgery to remove the clouded natural lens and implant a synthetic “intraocular” lens. This outpatient surgery takes about 10 minutes, and patients can go home as soon as it’s over. Cataract surgery is a safe, straightforward procedure performed thousands of times every day around the world.
What Are Cataracts?
A cataract is a cloudiness of the lens in your eye that prevents light from passing to the retina, which can impair your vision. Cataracts sometimes remain small and unnoticeable. But with more developed cataracts, it’s like constantly viewing the world through a foggy window.
Cataracts Are Natural
Cataracts form naturally as you age. When dead cells shed from your lens, they gather in the lens and form clouded spots. Since new lens cells form on the outside of the lens, all of the older cells are compacted into the center of the lens, resulting in a cataract.
Surgery is the only way to remove cataracts and restore your vision. Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures in the U.S. It is also one of the most successful. Over 95 percent of cataract surgeries result in improved vision. However, like any surgery, there can be complications that can be severe or sight threatening. Your chance of developing complications is greater if you have another eye disease or serious medical condition. Complications can usually be successfully treated, but it’s important to discuss your medical history with your eye care professional before making the decision to have cataract surgery.
Signs You May Have Cataracts
Most cataracts are caused by natural aging. Old, dead cells build up in your eyes’ lenses, causing them to become cloudy. When light passes through the lens to the retina, images become distorted and your vision is impaired.
Cataracts tend to develop slowly and can take years to mature. Because there isn’t a sudden overnight deterioration, you may not be able to detect the symptoms of cataracts or the effect they have on your vision. An annual visit to your eye care professional can help identify cataracts early on, but there are symptoms you can look for, including:
• Cloudy vision
• Difficulty seeing at night
• Halos around lights
• Frequent changes in glasses or contacts prescriptions
• Double vision in one eye
• Poor night vision
• Light sensitivity
• Seeing faded colors
Who Develops Cataracts?
More than half of all Americans age 65 and older have cataracts. Because cataracts are a natural part of the aging process, everyone is eventually at risk.
The most evident cause of cataracts is aging, but there are other factors that increase your risk of developing cataracts. These include:
• Extensive exposure to sunlight
• Long-term use of steroid medication
• High blood pressure
• Previous eye injury or inflammation in the eye
• Previous eye surgery (the most common cause of cataracts in people under 40)
• Family history of cataracts
Am I a Candidate for Cataract Surgery?
Because cataracts develop slowly, it can be difficult to pinpoint a specific time when cataract surgery becomes necessary. It can be delayed after diagnosis, but eventually, corrective glasses or contacts may not be enough, and surgery becomes inevitable. The biggest indication that surgery is necessary is when your cataracts affect daily tasks like reading or driving.
You should begin by consulting your eye care professional. He or she will review your medical history and determine if you need cataract surgery. Then you can begin to discuss which specific cataract surgery option is best for you.
Questions for Your Eye Care Professional
Having a basic understanding of the procedure beforehand will help facilitate the conversation, as will having some prepared questions such as:
• How advanced are my cataracts?
• Which type of intraocular lens (IOL) would I benefit most from?
• Will any of my current prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs complicate the surgery or recovery process?
• What will my vision be like after recovery?
• How much does cataract surgery cost?
• Who will perform the actual surgical procedure? You or another surgeon?
• What is the post-surgery follow-up process?
Understanding the Surgery
Cataract surgery is the only way to remove a cataract from your eye in order to restore your vision. It is one of the most common and effective surgical procedures performed in the U.S. and one of the safest as well.
It’s important to understand that just because you have cataracts, you don’t necessarily need surgery. You can manage them for years with glasses and contact lenses. It is only when your cataracts start to interfere with your daily activities that you need to consider surgery.
Annual visits to your eye care professional are important as you age so he or she can track developments in your cataracts. With an understanding of your lifestyle and the history of your eye care, your eye care professional will be able to make recommendations on whether surgery is necessary and which type of artificial lens you should get.
Costs and Insurance
A portion of traditional cataract surgery is usually covered by private insurance or Medicare. It is important to note that many advanced technology artificial intraocular lenses (IOLs) that correct other visual impairments, such as astigmatism, may not be fully covered. Colorado Eye Institute offers various payment options.
Intraocular Lens Choices
Cataract surgery is a very important decision, but the type of synthetic lens you choose can be equally significant. Depending on your lifestyle and the anatomy of your eyes, the right lens could not only restore your vision but may improve it beyond what you’ve ever experienced. Here are a few of your options:
Monofocal lenses are the basic replacement lenses and are designed to provide clear vision at one distance. They will remove the cloudiness you are experiencing but cannot correct pre-existing problems such as astigmatism or presbyopia. Monofocal lenses typically focus on only objects in the distance. This means that if you wear glasses or contact lenses now, you will still need them to see up close such as when reading or viewing the computer.
This is a technique in which a monofocal lens for near vision is used in one eye and one for distance vision is used in the other. This requires adaptation, since each eye is oriented differently, but can provide a wider range of improved vision.
These are monofocal lenses, but they move in response to your eyes’ own muscles, giving you the ability to see multiple focal points. However, your range of vision will not be as great as you would get from multifocal lenses.
Multifocal lenses can change how you see the world by allowing you a full range of improved vision, from near to far. They can drastically reduce your dependency on glasses or contacts, even if you’ve required them your entire life.
Astigmatism-correcting lenses, also known as toric lenses, are specifically designed to correct for astigmatism. Their unique shape minimizes imperfections in your cornea, allowing light to enter your eye with much less distortion. Even if you’ve needed glasses for years, a toric lens can greatly reduce your dependence on glasses for distance vision.
Cataract surgery for most of our Colorado Springs patients is performed at the Peak Surgery Center, located at our 9320 Grand Cordera Parkway building in Colorado Springs. This specially designed surgical center is dedicated exclusively to eye surgery and is equipped with the most advanced eye surgery instrumentation and equipment available.
For more information about cataract and/or cataract surgery, please call 719-258-1240 or email our ophthalmologists to schedule your initial consultation.
Click here to learn more about Cataract Lifestyle Lenses