Being able to see clearly on a daily basis effectively determines how well we react to the world around us. With a severe case of cataracts, you can lose the use of your eyes' lenses, limiting your ability to see and subsequently, limiting your daily activity and overall enjoyment of life. In these cases, it may be worthwhile to pursue cataract surgery to obtain clearer vision.
Cataracts, a common condition as you get older, leads to cloudiness of the lenses of the eye. For those who have cataracts, their vision is a bit like looking through a fogged up window. Lenses with cataracts block the retina, the portion of the eye that receives and organizes visual information. Light converted through the retina translates into the people, places, and things we see every day, but cataracts limit the amount of light and prevent defined images from reaching the retina.
The main cataract symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Light sensitivity
- Faded colors
- Difficulty seeing at night (e.g. seeing “halos” around lights)
Cataracts form naturally over time with age, but certain risk factors may increase the probability of cataracts appearing. These may include:
- Eye trauma
- Genetic disorders
- Various diseases (such as diabetes)
- UV rays
- Past eye surgeries
- Long-term steroid or medication use
If your doctor diagnoses you with cataracts, it doesn't necessarily mean you need cataract surgery. If cataracts are diagnosed on examination but do not affect your activities of daily living, you probably don’t need any treatment.
If the blurriness and cloudiness are negatively affecting your life, such as trouble driving or performing daily tasks, surgery may be your best option.
"Patients with minor cataracts can usually avoid cataract surgery,” says Summit Health ophthalmologist Ava Huchun, MD. “They may experience some blurriness, but their lives aren't adversely affected. However, severe cases of cataracts can limit someone's ability to read, drive, and function normally,” she adds.
If surgery is not an option or not recommended, a doctor can prescribe different methods to ease discomfort, such as strong prescription eyeglasses or a lens coating (such as anti-reflective) that prevents glare.
What Happens During Cataract Surgery?
Cataract surgery is almost always performed in the outpatient setting, and patients go home within a few hours. Before the procedure, the doctor numbs the eye and makes incisions (traditionally or laser-assisted) to get to the lens through the cornea. Once this is complete, the cloudy lens is removed using surgical tools and replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL). Intraocular lenses, or implants, are similar to contact lenses specified to your particular vision prescription. An additional advantage in some patients is that the IOL may fully correct vision and eliminate the need for glasses or contacts.
After the lens replacement, patients receive eye protection for their recovery period.
Cataract surgery is considered a very low-risk procedure and has a high success rate (around 95 percent) with most achieving better vision. As with any surgery, it carries a small risk, mainly in postoperative side effects such as eye infections, pain, retinal swelling or detachment and bleeding. Additionally, some people may have what is known as 'high risk' eyes, which means they are at higher risk of complications and more likely to yield a poor visual outcome after surgery.
Post-surgery, avoiding strenuous activity, like lifting heavy objects and driving, is recommended.
As noted above, patients go home on the day of the procedure and can resume usual non-strenuous activities by the following day. Many patients start seeing very well within the first week after surgery, but this largely depends on the patient’s other ocular diseases or conditions.
The recovery period for cataract surgery is generally anywhere from 2-4 months, depending on the severity of the condition and the patient. Patients may receive special eye drops or specific directions to ensure recovery is as smooth, quick, and painless as possible.
Cataract surgery can help you see more clearly, effectively eliminating blurriness or cloudiness.
Our ophthalmology and optometry team at Summit Health diagnoses and treats a variety of diseases of the eye, including cataracts.