As we’ve been discussing, a cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. When we are young, the natural lens acts as the zoom function in a camera, allowing us to focus up close, without the need for reading glasses or bifocals. As we age, the lens progressively becomes dysfunctional resulting in loss of near vision (presbyopia) that requires the use of reading glasses or bifocals. With aging the natural lens progressively becomes hard, yellow and cloudy, which blocks and scatters light causing blurred vision including unusual glare, poor night vision and a change in how your eyes perceive colors. To restore vision that has been lost or impaired by a cataract, the cloudy lens must be removed and replaced with a clear and permanent artificial lens implant.
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When is it time for cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is recommended when your vision begins to affect your quality of life or interfere with your ability to perform daily activities. Some signs of cataract include:
- Clouded, blurred or dim vision
- Increasing difficulty with vision at night
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Halos around lights
- The need for brighter light for reading and other activities
- Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Double vision in a single eye
Cataract surgery is currently the most commonly performed surgical procedure in the United States. Due to incredible advancements in surgical technique and technology, it now stands as one of the most successful procedures in the history of human medicine.
How Long does Cataract Surgery Take?
Not all cataract procedures are identical, and the answer partly has to do with the nature of the particular cataract being treated. However, most cataract procedures take a matter of minutes. Hours of intense planning and preparation by the surgeon are spent on each cataract treatment plan. The procedure itself is relatively quick.
Does Cataract Surgery Hurt?
The vast majority of patients report that there is no pain before, during, or after the cataract procedure. An anesthesiologist is present who provides sedation and a local anesthetic to the eye via anesthetic numbing drops and gels. As far as comfort goes, most patients report that having the IV placed in the arm for sedation is the worst part of the entire procedure.
Will I be awake for the procedure?
As described above, an anesthesiologist is present to provide sedation. However, general anesthesia with a breathing tube is not needed. Most patients describe a twilight zone type of experience. It is normal to hear the surgeon speaking to you during the procedure.
Will I be able to see the procedure being performed?
Most people describe a laser light water show that is quite interesting to watch. You will not be able to see what’s going on during the short procedure.
How soon will I be able to see after the procedure?
Most people notice a change in their vision very soon after the procedure. This might mean a change in color, overall clarity, and/or improved visual acuity on the eyechart within the first few days.
Is cataract surgery performed on both eyes at the same time?
Typically not. Although this may become standard practice in the relatively near future. Stay tuned.
How much time is needed between eyes?
We typically recommend waiting approximately 2-3 weeks in between eyes.
Will I need glasses after cataract surgery?
It depends. What type of cataract surgery you select (basic vs. advanced) will directly relate to how much or how little you’ll need glasses, especially if astigmatism is present. Most people have at least some astigmatism that needs to be addressed for best vision quality and least dependency on glasses and contact lenses.
What is astigmatism?
Astigmatism simply means that the front of the eye more is oval shaped rather than a perfect sphere. This shape distorts the way light enters the eye and causes blurry vision. Astigmatism can be treated with both surgical and non-surgical techniques (glasses/contacts).
Do I have to wait for my cataract to become “ripe” before I have cataract surgery?
This is a commonly held myth, but listen, your eye is not a FRUIT! Whenever your best vision is limited by cataract and your surgeon believes he or she can help you via cataract treatment, you may consider having the cataract cured. Talk to your doctor about all of your options, risks, benefits, and alternatives.
How long will the lens implant last?
Modern lens implants (IOLs) are permanent. There should be no need for maintenance or replacement in the future. In fact, the reason vision changes after age 40 has to do with aging changes in the natural lens (cataract development). Once the cataract is replaced with a new lens implant, there should be no more stimulus for the vision prescription to change after that. Therefore, cataract surgery is a permanent treatment for your vision.