Cataract surgery today is nothing like it was in the past. Instead of being left with poor vision and very thick glasses, today’s cataract surgery patients are often pleasantly surprised that they only need over-the-counter reading glasses.
Once you are age 60, there is about a 60 percent chance that you will develop a cataract. A cataract is actually a clouding of the lens of the eye, which is transparent when healthy.
About 30 years ago, researchers developed artificial lenses that could take the place of the natural lens in the eye. There are a variety of artificial lenses now available.
The most popular type is a monofocal, or single focus, lens. This works much the way standard glasses do, providing a large range of clear vision in the middle distances.
People who have monofocal lens implants may need to use over-the-counter reading glasses, or special glasses for driving, but for mostly every tasks, their vision is more than adequate.
There are different monofocal lenses available, and your doctor will choose the best one for you based on whether you have normal vision, or are farsighted or nearsighted. These lenses are usually covered by health insurance.
Multifocal lenses are also available. These lenses allow you to focus at a distance and up close. These are very popular choices because most people who suffer from cataracts also have presbyopia, more commonly known as farsightedness, and need reading glasses.
Presbyopia commonly develops as people age because their natural lens grows stiff as it ages and it can no longer be focused properly for close vision. Health insurance usually does not cover the cost of multifocal lenses.
They are also not a good choice for people who have diabetes or macular degeneration, or when there is a family history and therefore a higher degree of risk of developing these diseases.
A new type of lens is available for patients who suffer from astigmatism. This lens is called a toric lens, and is also not usually covered by insurance.
The surgical process of removing the old lens and replacing it with the new lens has also taken great leaps forward, thanks to the use of ultrasound. The name for the technique is phacoemulsification.
Ultrasound waves are used to break up the damaged lens so that it can be removed through a very small incision, rather than the large incision that was previously required to remove the natural lens intact.
The new lens is pliable and can be rolled up and inserted through the small incision; the new lens then unfolds into place. No stitches are required, and the incision is in a part of the eye that is not highly vascularized, so there is very little bleeding.
Cataract surgery generally takes place in an outpatient setting. Patients sometimes receive i.v. medication to help them relax, but they are awake during the process. Numbing eye drops are used in the affected eye.
The improvement in healthy vision is often apparent as soon as hours after the surgery. Vision continues to improve over the next several weeks. After care involves the use of several prescription eye drops which prevent infection and help the eye heal, and avoiding bending or lifting which can place pressure on the healing eye.