Beginning in their mid-40s, all individuals develop a progressive hardening and clouding of their eye’s naturally clear, accommodating lens. As the lens hardens, the eye has difficulty focusing on things at varying distances, often requiring the use of reading glasses or bifocals/trifocals. Progressive clouding of the lens blocks light and blurs vision even with the use of glasses. This clouding is called a cataract. A cataract limits the individual’s ability to read books and road signs and may worsen glare around lights. It can reduce the individual’s ability to perform many daily tasks including work or hobby-related activities.
Cataract symptoms appear gradually and may not be noticeable until they affect daily life. Early symptoms typically begin after the age of 40 and progress slowly over many years. Symptoms can be quite variable and may include the following:
- Blurred, cloudy, or hazy vision: may cause difficulty reading, watching television, or seeing road signs.
- Glare, starbursts, or halos around lights: may cause difficulty driving at night.
- Distorted or double vision
- Light sensitivity
- Fading colors
The good news is that cataracts are treatable. Cataract surgery is a safe procedure that replaces the cloudy, natural lens with a clear, synthetic intraocular lens (IOL), restoring the patient’s vision. The natural lens of the eye is encased by a clear, elastic-like capsule bag. When performing cataract surgery, the front portion of the capsule is opened, allowing removal of the cloudy center. After removing the cloudy center, the IOL is positioned inside the clear capsule bag, which encases and holds the new IOL. Patients can resume most normal activities and occupational obligations the day following their procedure.
Thanks to advances in technology, including the use of micro-incisions and the femtosecond laser, cataract surgery is among the safest and most successful operations performed today. Surgical complications resulting in vision loss or requiring additional surgery are rarely reported.
Do Cataracts Ever Recur?
Cataracts do not recur. Cataract surgery replaces the cloudy, natural lens with a clear, synthetic intraocular lens (IOL). The IOL is placed inside the lining (also called capsule) of the natural lens, which is preserved at the time of cataract surgery. This capsule has a clear “plastic wrap” quality and clarity, ensuring a stable and central location for the IOL. In the months and years following cataract surgery, healing and scarring may cause opacification of the capsule resulting in blurred vision and glare. This condition is called Posterior Capsule Opacification (PCO) and is easily resolved using a YAG laser to create an opening in the center of the cloudy capsule. This procedure is necessary in most patients following cataract surgery and does not typically need repeating. PCO treatment is painless and takes only a few minutes following pupil dilation.