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Cataracts

Overview

A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. For people who have cataracts, seeing through cloudy lenses is a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. Clouded vision caused by cataracts can make it more difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night) or see the expression on a friend’s face.

Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t disturb your eyesight early on. But with time, cataracts will eventually interfere with your vision.

At first, stronger lighting and eyeglasses can help you deal with cataracts. But if impaired vision interferes with your usual activities, you might need cataract surgery. Fortunately, cataract surgery is generally a safe, effective procedure.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Clouded, blurred or dim vision
  • Increasing difficulty with vision at night
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Need for brighter light for reading and other activities
  • Seeing “halos” around lights
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
  • Fading or yellowing of colors
  • Double vision in a single eye

At first, the cloudiness in your vision caused by a cataract may affect only a small part of the eye’s lens and you may be unaware of any vision loss. As the cataract grows larger, it clouds more of your lens and distorts the light passing through the lens. This may lead to more-noticeable symptoms.

What’s the Treatment?

Surgery is the only way to treat cataracts, but you may not need it right away. If you catch the problem at an early stage, you might be able to get by with a new prescription for your glasses. A stronger lens can make your vision better for a while.

If you have trouble reading, try a brighter lamp or a magnifying glass. If glare is a problem for you, check out special glasses that have an anti-glare coating. They can help when you drive at night.

Keep close tabs on how your cataracts affect the way you see. When your vision troubles start to get in the way of your daily routine — especially if they make driving dangerous — it’s time to talk to your doctor about surgery.

Cataract surgery

There are several kinds of operations for cataracts, but they all have one thing in common: Your surgeon takes out the cloudy lens and replaces it with an artificial one.

You might feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of an operation on a sensitive spot like your eye. But it’s a very common procedure. You’ll get a medicine called local anesthesia to numb your eye. You’ll be awake but sedated, and you won’t feel anything.

It usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes, and you don’t need to stay overnight in a hospital. If you have cataracts in both eyes, your doctor will wait until your first eye heals before they perform surgery on the second. More than 95% of people who have this done say they can see better afterward.

  • Small-incision surgery. You may also hear your doctor call this phacoemulsification. Your surgeon makes a tiny cut on your cornea. They put a small device in your eye that gives off ultrasound waves that break up your cloudy lens. Then, they take out the pieces and put in the artificial lens.
  • Large-incision surgery. This isn’t done as often, but doctors sometimes suggest it for larger cataracts that cause more vision trouble than usual. It’s sometimes called extracapsular cataract extraction. Your surgeon takes out your clouded lens in one piece and swaps it out for an artificial one. You’ll probably need a little more time to heal from this surgery than from the small-incision type.
  • Femtosecond laser surgery. In this operation, your surgeon uses a laser to break up the lens. As with the other types, they’ll then put in the new lens. Your doctor may suggest this if you also have an astigmatism, a curve of your cornea that makes your vision blurry. Your surgeon can treat that problem during the cataract surgery by using the laser to reshape your cornea.