Cataracts: Surgery Will Solve It

Is your vision clouded or dim? Is it difficult for you to see at night? Do you need brighter light for reading? Do you see “halos” around light? Do colors look faded or yellow? Are you frequently changing eyeglass prescriptions?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might have a cataract.

“A cataract clouds the eye's lens and prevents light rays from reaching the retina to produce a clear image,”,says Tom Oetting, MD, MS, professor of ophthalmology at University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine and a staff physician at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

“While we don’t exactly know why cataracts form, there are factors associated with the formation of cataracts. These include increasing age, family history, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, UV light, eye injuries and inflammation, as well as some medications such as statins and corticosteroids,” Oetting says. Smoking is a significant risk factor for cataract formation. 

There are four types of cataracts: age-related, congenital, traumatic, and secondary.

  • Age-related cataracts, caused by the normal aging process, are the most common.
  • Cataracts can also develop in children and can even be present at birth.  These congenital cataracts may be hereditary or they may be due to fetal or maternal diseases.
  • Traumatic cataracts result from direct injury to the eye.
  • Secondary cataracts are caused by diseases (for example, diabetes), medicine (for example, prednisone), and following some eye surgeries (for example, retina surgery).

There have been studies that suggest some nutrients may reduce the risk of age-related cataracts. 

The only effective way to remove a cataract is with surgery, which is usually recommended if the condition interferes with the patient's function or safety. Several studies have shown that cataract surgery can help prevent falls and fractures that we all fear as we age. 

During cataract surgery, the lens inside your eye is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.

The procedure most commonly used is called “phacoemulsification” or “phaco,” in which ultrasound is used to break the lens into small pieces that are then removed by suction, Oetting explains.

After the lens is removed, an artificial, intraocular lens (IOL) is placed in the eye. There are a variety of IOLs in use and more are in development. Some IOLs have more than one focal length or correct for astigmatism to lessen the need for glasses after surgery. Sometimes surgeons will set one eye for far vision and the other nearer to allow patients more function without glasses. 

Surgery usually takes less than 20 minutes and is almost always done as an outpatient.

"Cataract surgery is very successful. More than three million cataract surgeries are done each year," Oetting adds.

After surgery, most patients return to their normal activities within a few days. Patients usually have return visits on the afternoon of the surgery and about a month later. Patients use eyedrops for the first few weeks following surgery to prevent inflammation and infection. 

If you are having trouble with your vision, consult your physician or ophthalmologist.