Over fifty percent of people over the age of 60, and quite a few younger than that, suffer from cataracts. In fact, cataracts are so common it is said that everyone will develop a cataract if they live long enough.
A cataract is a progressive clouding of the eye's natural lens that interferes with light passing through to the retina. Sufferers usually describe the condition as being similar to looking through a waterfall, or a piece of wax paper, with gradual blurring or dimming of vision.
A scene as it might be viewed by a person with cataract. (National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health)
Reading may become more difficult and driving a car can actually become dangerous. Cataract sufferers may also be troubled by a bothersome glare, halos around lights, or even double vision. And as the cataract becomes worse, frequent changes in eye-glass prescriptions may become necessary.
Currently there is no medical treatment to reverse or prevent the development of cataracts. Once they form, there is only one way to achieve clear vision again, and that is to physically remove the cataract from the eye.
In your parents' or grandparents' day, cataract surgery was considered risky, required a lengthy hospital stay and was usually postponed for as long as possible. Today, cataract surgery is performed on an out-patient basis and takes only a few minutes. Patients can then go home and rest in comfort and avoid the inconvenience and expense of staying in a hospital. Check out 3D Animations on this and related topics on the 3D Eye Animations page.
Your cataract will be removed with an advanced technique called phacoemulsification, or small-incision cataract surgery. Using only a topical anesthetic, a "stair-stepped" incision of about 1/8" is made in the clear cornea (just above the area where the cornea meets the sclera). The cataract is then broken into microscopic particles using high energy sound waves and gently suctioned from the eye. Then, to compensate for the removal of the eye's natural lens, an intra-ocular lens(IOL) is implanted into the eye. After using this special "stair-stepped" incision, the eye remains tightly sealed by the natural outward pressure within your eye.
New Intraocular Lenses
Ludwick Laser and Surgery Center also offers intraocular lens implants to treat astigmatism as well as new "bifocal" lens implants call the Crystalens, which allows patients to see at both distance and near. The Crystalens allows patients to "break free" of their need for glasses, contacts, and bifocals. Our experience tells us that most patients who have the Crystalens (shown in the picture below right) are able to drive a car, use a computer and read the newspaper without the use of glasses. We also utilize the Alcon Toric Lens (below left) that corrects for corneal astigimatism reducing a patient's dependence for glasses.
Successful Cataract Surgery
Everyone heals somewhat differently, but many cataract patients report improvement in their vision almost immediately after the procedure. Most patients return to their normal work and lifestyle routines within a day or two.
According to a survey conducted by the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, more than 98% of cataract patients had their vision successfully improved after surgery. Many patients experience vision that is actually better than before they developed cataracts. Once removed, cataracts will not grow back. However, some patients may experience clouding of a thin tissue called the capsule or "bag" that holds the IOL. In most cases a laser is used to painlessly open the clouded capsule and restore clear vision.