We go to our eye care professional, and we hear “you have cataracts,” but they are not “ripe” enough to have surgery. You could also hear “now is the time to think about having cataract surgery.” What does this mean?
First off, “ripe” is an older term that denoted the cataract had formed substantially, and surgery was needed to enable the patient to obtain better vision. Glasses were no longer an option. Today, the time to have the surgery is determined less by “ripeness” and more by lifestyles, activities and quality of life. For example, if someone is a nighttime truck driver, his need for the best vision is greater than someone who does not drive at all or very little. The time to schedule surgery is when the vision decreases to a level that someone cannot continue their daily activities due to visual disturbances, glare, blurriness, haziness, etc.
What is a cataract?
A cataract is simply the natural lens in your eye that has become cloudy over time. In a healthy eye, the lens is transparent and focuses light on the retina. Over time, the lens can lose the ability to let light into the eye as it becomes cloudy.
How are cataracts corrected?
A visit to your optometrist or ophthalmologist begins the process. Once the diagnosis is made that someone has a cataract that is interfering with his or her lifestyle, the process begins at the ophthalmologist’s office. A comprehensive exam is performed to determine the health of your eye, if any other conditions are present and the best type of lens implant for you. You will be given several options for your surgery procedure as well as lens types. These should be explained to you in great detail, so you feel comfortable.
What happens then?
Like most people, you might be a little anxious awaiting the surgery date, but the process has become painless with little or no discomfort after the procedure. Patients will want to arrange for transportation to and from the surgery center as your vision will not be clear enough to allow you to drive yourself.
The big day!
The procedure to remove cataracts is typically done as an outpatient surgery. Medication may be given to help the patient relax during the procedure. Rather than having anesthesia, the patient typically is given eye medication that numbs the eye completely and allows the physician to perform the procedure without causing pain.
The cataract surgery is most often performed by a method called phacoemulsification
This procedure uses highly focused sound waves to break the cloudy lens (cataract) into tiny pieces. This allows the surgeon to use a very small incision, through which the pieces are then removed using gentle suction. Once the pieces are removed, an artificial lens, called an Intraocular Lens or IOL, is put into place. The lens is very flexible and can be slipped into a tiny incision. This is known as the “no stitch” procedure.
After a short time, patients are released to return to their homes to rest with a follow-up appointment scheduled for the following day. Eye drops will be prescribed to prevent infection or to soothe irritation, and you may be advised to wear an eye patch, wear dark sunglasses or given special instructions.
Please look for us again as we continue with our series on Cataracts & Cataract Surgery.