Cataracts occur when the crystalline lens inside your eye begins to get cloudy, which blocks light from entering the eye. This has a deleterious effect on your vision and can make everyday activities like reading and driving more difficult. Fortunately, cataracts are completely treatable via surgical intervention. Understanding this common eye condition is critical to making an informed decision about treatment and prevention.
Understanding Your Risk Factors
According to the World Health Organization, most cataracts are caused by age. However, babies can be born with cataracts and anyone can develop them due to inflammation, disease or an injury. Other risk factors to be aware of include:
- Hypertension, sometimes called high blood pressure
- Overexposure to radiation, like those used in cancer treatments and x-rays
- Alcoholism or excessive drinking
- A family history of the condition
- Being overweight or obese
- Tobacco smoking
Knowing When the Time is Right for Intervention
For most people, cataracts begin as a slight cloudiness or dimming of vision. You may not even notice this happening until your optometrists notes the changes during a routine exam. For those whose cataracts are forming on the edges of the lenses, normal vision may not be impacted until the cataracts grow in size. Because it takes time for cataracts to progress, you can usually schedule their removal at your own convenience. Recovery is normally quick, but you will need to arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home from the procedure and to follow-up appointments.
Living with Cataracts
There are steps you can take to make living with cataracts easier. If you’re not ready for surgery, make sure your contacts or eyeglasses are the proper prescription. You may also want to add more lighting to your home by installing brighter light bulbs or adding lamps, especially near work spaces. When you venture outside during the day, wear a hat or sunglasses to reduce the amount of glare you see in your field of vision. If night-time driving is becoming a challenge, rearrange your schedule to limit it. Finally, consider purchasing a magnifying glass to reduce eye strain.
Understanding the Process
While the surgery to have your cataract removed may sound concerning, it’s performed millions of times a year around the world with very few complications. Under anesthetic, Dr. Brian Davis or a surgeon in your particular area will make a small incision and remove the crystalline lens of your eye. The lens is then replaced by an intraocular lens made of plastic. The new lens can be fitted with your prescription, negating your need for glasses. In some cases, the artificial lens is not inserted. Your vision will then be corrected with contact lenses or glasses.
The surgery is usually carried out in an outpatient facility, meaning you won’t need to spend a night in the hospital. Healing is quick and it normally only takes a few weeks to feel completely normal and healed. If you have cataracts in both eyes, your surgeon will usually recommend waiting a month or two before you have your other eye done.
Recovering from Surgery
After you’re been discharged from the outpatient facility, you will need a friend or family member to drive you home. You’ll be given a pair of sunglasses to wear, or you can wear your own. This helps reduce the amount of glare, which can be painful immediately after surgery. You may note that your vision in the surgical eye is blurry or distorted. This is completely normal and happens because your brain is adapting to the new lens. It will dissipate within days and your vision will improve.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cataracts, there is usually no reason to rush into surgery. Have your cataracts removed when it’s most convenient for you and be sure to ask your surgeon any additional questions you may have.