By: Richard Gans, MD
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If you have cataracts, they cloud your vision. But if they progress to the point where you need surgery, here is some clarity: Recent advances may help you not only see better, but also stop wearing glasses.
Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye gets cloudy over time. As the cataract gets cloudy, your vision becomes hazy. You may have trouble with glare, and you’ll need more light to see.
Aging is the primary cause, but there are other reasons why people get cataracts sooner. Various medications, such as steroids, can speed up cataract development. People with certain medical conditions such as diabetes tend to get cataracts earlier than other people do. Radiation, injuries and other issues play a part, too.
Regardless of the cause, if the cataract gets to the point where you can’t see well on a daily basis, you may want to consider having cataract surgery.
When is surgery the right decision?
To decide whether surgery is appropriate, your doctor will discuss a number of factors with you.
Think about your visual needs and if cataracts interfere with them. For example, do you drive for a living and lose the ability to drive at night? Do you play golf but lose the ability to see the ball properly? In other words, does your condition interrupt your life on a regular basis?
“In the past, lens implants corrected nearsightedness or farsightedness. But even with them, you’d still need glasses to fine-tune your vision. Those days are gone for many patients.”
There is no age limit for surgery as long as you’re healthy enough for it and don’t have other limiting factors. The surgery itself is not painful. It’s done under local anesthetic, with numbing agents and relaxation medicine.
Surgeons remove the cataract and place an artificial lens that sits inside the eye permanently. This lens refocuses light to help you see well again. Lens implants are expected to last a lifetime. Vision typically does not regress with time as long as you don’t develop other conditions.
How your options have improved
In the past, lens implants corrected nearsightedness or farsightedness. But even with them, you’d still need glasses to fine-tune your vision.
Those days are gone for many patients.
During cataract surgery today, we often can place special lenses inside the eye that correct more than just nearsightedness and farsightedness.
For example, multi-focal lenses provide both distance and near vision simultaneously so you won’t need to wear reading glasses. The technology does not work well for people who have strict visual needs, so ask if you are a candidate.
The newest — and perhaps most exciting — technology is a computer-guided laser we use during cataract surgery. This laser reshapes the curvature of the front surface of the eye to eliminate astigmatism. When we correct astigmatism, nearsightedness or farsightedness at the same time, we can get as close to ideal distance vision as possible without needing glasses.
Keep in mind cataract surgery is covered by most insurance, but these extra features may not always be. They’re relatively new. Speak with your doctor about your options, and if need be, check with your insurance company to find out what’s covered for you.