You are in your fifties or older and you have difficulty seeing when driving at night. Or, you may feel the bulb in your reading lamp has gotten dimmer- even though it's the same wattage you've always used. If you experience these problems, you may be developing cataracts. Other symptoms of cataracts include changes in the way you see color, blurred vision, glare or ghosting of images.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye that blocks light from entering, thus making it harder for a person to see. Cataracts generally developer over time. Your doctor may initially change your eyeglass prescription, and for some people that will solve the problem. Other patients find that a prescription change may work for a while, but eventually their vision gets worse. If and when cataracts interfere with your quality of life-for example, you can no longer see well enough at night to drive home from work- you may want to consider cataract surgery.
Cataract surgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis. In the last decade there have been major improvements in surgery techniques. One of the most significant developments is that the clouded lens is usually not extracted whole but is dissolved using high frequency ultrasound, then aspirated out of the eye. The surgeon implants a foldable artificial lens that, once placed inside the eye, unfolds into position. This means that the surgeon makes only a very small incision- less than three millimeters- that's self-sealing and requires no stitches. The smaller incision reduces the risk of complications and allows the patient to recover faster. An evolution in anesthesia for cataract surgery also reduces the risk: A small injection or topical anesthetic may be used.
Although surgeons work hard to obtain a successful outcome and to make the procedure easy on the patient, this does not mean that a cataract surgery is risk-free. A cataract operation is major surgery and complications can occur. Well over 90% of cases proceed without incident, but infection and, in rare instances even blindness may result.
If you opt to have cataract surgery, the procedure itself should take only about 20 minutes, although you may stay in the recovery area for about an hour. You will need someone to escort you home. For the first 24 hours, you will probably wear an eye patch or shield. Improvement in vision will be apparent when the eye patch is removed and it should continue to improve over the next few days or weeks. You may even be able to return to work the second day after surgery.
Advanced Technology IOLs
Over the past several years there has been major advances in artificial lens technology. Crystalens is an intraocular lens (IOL) that is designed to shift focus from distance to near. In general, Crystalens patients enjoy better vision without glasses than conventional IOL patients.
The Alcon Acrysof Toric Lens is an artificial lens that is placed at at the time of cataracts surgery, that is designed to correct patients astigmatism. In general, Acrysof Toric patients enjoy better vision without glasses that patients with astigmatism that is not treated (i.e. receive a conventional IOL).
Although an intraocular lens is almost always placed at the time of cataract surgery, not every patient is a candidate for these premium IOLs. They are designed to improve the quality of your vision without glasses, above and beyond what can be obtained with a conventional IOL.
If you are interested in maximizing your spectacle independence and cataract surgery ask your doctor about this option. Also, there is an extra charge for these products as they are not covered by medicare or commercial insurance.