A cataract is a loss of transparency, or clouding, of the normally clear lens of the eye. As one ages, chemical changes occur in the lens that make it less transparent. The loss of transparency may be mild and hardly affect vision or conversely, be so severe that shapes or movements are not seen, only light and dark. When the lens gets cloudy enough to obstruct vision to any significant degree, it is called a cataract. Glasses or contact lenses cannot sharpen your vision if a cataract is present.
The lens is in a sealed bag or capsule. When old cells die, they are trapped within the capsule and accumulate, causing the lens to cloud. Cataracts usually develop as a natural part of aging. They are the leading cause of vision loss among adults over 55. Cataracts can also be caused by eye injuries, genetic inheritance, medications such as steroids, diseases such as diabetes and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light.
A thorough examination by Dr. Fagadau or Dr. Hawk can detect the presence of a cataract and to what extent it is limiting vision. Sometimes a change of glasses may be all that is necessary to function comfortably. However, surgery is the only method to definitively treat a cataract.
Cataract surgery is a very successful operation. Over three million people have this procedure every year and 95% have a successful result. As with any surgical procedure, complications can occur during or after surgery, and some are severe enough to limit vision. But in most cases, vision, as well as quality of life, improves.
Drs. Fagadau, Hawk and Swanson perform no-stitch cataract surgery at Park Central Surgical Center, usually under local anesthesia on an outpatient basis. The clouded lens is dissolved using a high frequency ultrasound (phaco-emulsification) and removed with a small incision. An artificial lens, called an intraocular lens, is implanted and rehabilitation is generally rapid.
It takes a few weeks for the eye to heal completely, but the patient is able to return to normal activity very soon after surgery.
There are currently no medications, dietary supplements, exercises or optical devices to prevent or curb cataracts. Protection from excessive sunlight by wearing sunglasses that screen out ultraviolet light rays may help prevent or slow the progression of cataracts.
American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery
Photos courtesy of American Academy of Ophthalmology and National Eye Institute.