As men and women age, their risk for cataracts increases. Starting at age 50, cataract risk rises, and that risk only grows more significant as men and women get older. The National Eye Institute predicts that, by the year 2050, 50.2 million Americans will experience cataracts.
The lens of the eye is normally clear, but as a person ages, the lenses can begin to cloud and lead to impaired vision. Cataracts can cause blurry vision and increase the glare from lights, affecting how a person can manage daily activities. Cataracts also may make it more difficult for eye doctors to examine the back of the eye during routine visits to detect conditions such as age-related macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.
Eye experts routinely recommend cataract surgery when cataracts interfere with daily activities, such as driving, watching television or even reading medication bottles. Surgery is a safe and common way to treat cataracts.
The American Optometric Association says cataract surgery involves the removal of the natural lens of the eye, which is replaced with an artifical lens. This clear, plastic intraocular lens, or IOL, requires no special maintenance and is designed to properly focus. In many cases, the eye doctor will make a small incision in the side of the cornea, where he or she inserts a tiny probe. This device will use ultrasound waves to soften and break up the lens into small pieces, which are removed by suction in a process known as phacoemulsification. The cataract lens is removed, but the thin, outer layers of the lens, called the lens capsule, are not touched. Afterward, the IOL is placed in the lens capsule.
If the cataracts have advanced and phacoemulsification is not an option, the eye doctor will have to find another way to remove the lens.
The IOLs used may be monofocal, fixed-focus, accommodating, and multifocal lenses, and which type of lens is best for a patient's needs will be determined by the eye doctor.
Cataract surgery may only take 15 minutes, though patients will likely spend more time at the surgical facility to allow for prep time and post-operative evaluation. Recovery will involve the use of medicated eye drops several times daily, and a protective eye shield should be used while sleeping.
As the eye recovers, a special pair of post-operative sunglasses are required to protect the eyes from bright light. Eye doctors also advise patients to avoid strenuous activity, including exercise, for at least the first week of recovery. Water splashed in the eyes can cause infection, so swimming should be avoided and caution should be taken when bathing or showering.
All About Vision says it can take several weeks for the eye to heal sufficiently. If both eyes require surgery, doctors will often wait one to three weeks before performing surgery on the second eye.
Learn more about cataract surgery by speaking with your eye doctor or visiting www.aoa.org.