Cataract surgery is one of the most common medical procedures conducted in the United States, and as Baby Boomers continue to age, they are flooding procedure rooms and surgical centers in droves.
Cataracts can be exacerbated by overexposure to ultraviolet light, diabetes, or hypertension, but the most common cause is good, old-fashioned aging.
People begin to see the affects of clouding at around age 55. Some who suffer from cataracts notice a "veiled glare" as light is scattered by the cataract into the eye. People suffering from this report:
1. Difficulty reading
2. Difficulty seeing close objects
3. Difficulty seeing to drive, especially at night
4. Changing glasses prescriptions
5. Needing bifocals
Cataracts develop slowly, they are painless, and many patients report not even noticing a decrease in the quality of their vision until they visit an eye doctor.
During traditional cataract surgery, the crystalline lens is removed and a plastic implant replaces it. The new lens becomes part of your eye and you can't see or feel it. For people suffering from this clouding, the surgery is safe, quick and is like a miracle cure, restoring vision to people who have lived much of their fifties and sixties in an ocular cloud.
Although the results for the traditional procedure are generally very good, the old way and the materials associated with it are not perfect.
In the past, plastic lens implants were only monofocal, providing visual clarity at one distance, usually far away, but seeing things up close, like reading a book, magazine or street sign, could still require glasses.
Now available in many doctor's offices is a miraculous advancement in the way surgeons treat cataracts. It is called multi-focal intraocular cataract surgery. The surgery, about 15 minutes in length, is even quicker, and safer than traditional cataract surgery. The best part is, patients can see equally as well, far away, at intermediate distances and close up. The new lens mimics the young eyes we used to have.
A doctor removes the cataract and then implants the multi-focal Intraocular Lens behind the iris where the cataract used to be.
Unlike the old procedure, which includes a 10 millimeter incision in the eye, the new operation is done with a laser and the incision is a fraction of the size of the old one. Using a procedure called phacoemulsification or phaco, the doctor will make a microscopic incision in the eye, and insert a phaco probe to break up the cloudy lens and remove it.
The new method is quick-healing, patients do not need stitches and can be back on the golf course or at the bowling alley within 24 hours. Patients have reported some minor haloing, or rings around street and headlights while driving at night, but as the eyes begin to eventually adjust to the surgically implanted lenses, patients may see this haloing diminish, or completely disappear, over time.
Patients do have to use eye drops for several weeks after the operation, but compared to the old procedures, which included stitches which remained in the eye for days or even weeks, intraocular lenses are a marked improvement.
This is an out-patient procedure, conducted using only a local anesthetic, and clients are usually able to leave the doctor's office within an hour, and they will likely not need to return to an optometrist for this problem for the rest of their lives.
The price is reasonable, and insurance companies usually pay for the surgery, but patients may, in some cases, have to dig into their own pockets for the cost of the lenses, but that might be a small price to pay for the ability to see the world the way it was meant to be viewed.
(Mark G. Ballif, M.D., of Ogden, Utah, practices at Mt. Ogden Eye Center. He is on staff at Ogden Regional Medical Center.)
(WhatDoctorsKnow is a magazine devoted to up-to-the minute information on health issues from physicians, major hospitals and clinics, universities and health care agencies across the U.S. Online at http://www.whatdoctorsknow.com.)