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The Who, What, Why, When, and How of Cataract Surgery

September 1, 2015

It’s the age-old sign of growing older for many people – cataracts. Each year cataracts are becoming more common: almost 25.7 million people have cataracts today, and it’s projected that by the year 2050, 45.6 million people will have cataracts. But don’t let the numbers scare you; cataract surgery is one of the most performed surgeries in the US according to Medicare. But beyond all these  numbers and statistics, how and why do cataracts form?

What are cataracts?

In the eye, the lens is made up of mostly water and protein. The protein’s job in the lens is to allow light to pass through, but over time it may begin to clump up and develop into a “cloudy” formation, a cataract. At first a cataract may not hinder your vision as much, but you may notice over time that it gets harder to see, as it grows.

If you have a cataract you should be able to tell because your vision will become blurry, colors won’t look as vivid as they once did, and you may notice there is more glare with lights at nighttime.

What Causes Cataracts?

It isn’t known for sure why cataracts form, but studies have shown that there are various reasons, from smoking to diabetes, UV rays from the sun, alcohol, family history, and other factors. But one theory that is beginning to gain a lot of popularity is oxidative changes in the lens.

Are there different kinds of cataracts?

There are 3 different types of cataracts and each occurs in a different part of the eye.

One type of cataract is a cortical cataract which appears in the lens cortex (the part surrounding the central nucleus). You’ll be able to see the difference in a cortical cataract over time because of its distinct transformation—“white, wedge-like opacities that start in the periphery of the lens and work their way to the center in a spoke-like fashion.”

Another type of cataract is a subcapsular cataract. People who consume high doses of steroids (medications) and those who have diabetes are at greater risk of developing this type of cataract. A subcapsular cataract forms at the back of the lens.

The last kind of cataract appears in the nucleus of the lens and it’s appropriately named a nuclear cataract. These form due to the cause most commonly associated with cataracts, aging.

When should I consider cataract surgery?

Deciding when to have surgery for your cataracts is dependent on how much they affect your everyday activities, if you can see properly at nighttime, and if there is any way you can alter ways you see (new glasses, better lighting, etc.). It’s preferred for patients to assess how their cataracts are affecting them, and if the results of the surgery will better their vision, then it’s usually suggested to have them removed.

What happens during the procedure?

Before you elect to have cataract surgery done, you will need to go through pre-operative tests to ensure you’re an eligible candidate. During an A-scan, doctors will measure the length of your eye. Then after that, you’ll have the curve of your eye examined through keratometry.

The procedure to remove cataracts is fairly simple and not painful. A slit will be made on the side of your eye’s cornea, and through that slit, a small instrument will be inserted to break up the cloudiness with high-frequency ultrasound. Once it’s broken up, the instrument will carefully suction out what used to be the cataract. Our doctors will then insert an intraocular lens (IOL), a plastic or silicone lens that will replace the clouded lens. We may insert a different type of IOL—with advances in technology, there are now two other IOLs. One is the Presbyopia-correcting IOL, which allows you to see at every distance, and another type of IOL will protect your retina from UV and blue light rays.

How can I prevent cataracts?

Studies have shown that consuming fruits and vegetables that are high in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin will help to counteract the formation of cataracts. Also, foods that have vitamins C and E, and Omega-3 fatty acids are said to help prevent cataracts. One more way to prevent them from forming is by wearing protective sunglasses when you are outside to block UV rays.

If you think you may be getting cataracts, don’t hesitate to make an appointment to get your eyes examined. If you live in the New Jersey area, consider making an appointment with one of our doctors at OCLI today, and completing the cataract evaluation test on our website.

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