Cataracts are a debilitating eye condition that require expert medical attention. While the only way to treat cataracts is surgery, there are options within surgery, as well as lifestyle changes you can adopt now, to help slow the progression of cataracts. Our team of expert ophthalmologists share insights on what cataracts are, how to treat them, and what your next steps can be to take action.
What are cataracts?
Before diving into treatment options, it’s important to first understand the proper definition of cataracts. A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye, when proteins in your lens break down and cause things to look blurry, hazy, or less colorful. Cataracts can make it increasingly difficult to see details – it may seem as if you are looking through a fogged-up window – and do things like drive at night.
Often, cataracts develop slowly and do not disturb your eyesight at the onset. Over time, however, cataracts will interfere with vision. There are many ways this can occur, including blurry vision when watching TV, driving a car, looking at a computer screen or reading a newspaper. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), aging is the most common cause of cataracts. This is due to normal eye changes that happen starting around age 40. Other reasons you may develop cataracts include:
- Family history of cataracts
- Previous eye injury or eye surgery
- Excessive exposure to sunlight
- Prolonged use of certain medications, like corticosteroids
What are treatment options?
It is important to understand that cataracts can only be treated with surgery. While you can work to slow down the development of cataracts by protecting your eyes from prolonged sun exposure and refraining from smoking, for example, ultimately surgery will need to occur. There are currently two surgical options for cataract removal:
- Traditional Cataract Surgery
Also known as phacoemulsification, traditional cataract surgery is the process by which your ophthalmologist creates a small incision in your cornea to remove the cloudy/damaged lens where the cataracts are present. Once removed, your ophthalmologist will replace the lens with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). This is a safe, outpatient procedure done under local anesthesia.
- Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery
During this type of surgery, a camera/ultrasound device is placed over your eye to map its surface and gather information about your lens. The device sends the results to a computer that programs a laser, telling the laser the exact location, size, and depth for incisions. The ophthalmologist can then use the laser to make the corneal incision and remove the cloudy/damaged lens. Similarly to traditional cataract surgery then, the removed lens is replaced with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). This procedure is also a safe, out-patient procedure that can offer additional precision and take less time than traditional cataract surgery.
Both options have the same recovery time, with potential discomfort for the first few days post-surgery, and complete healing by around 8 weeks.
How do I determine the next steps?
Continuing your comprehensive eye exams with your ophthalmologist is the best way to stay on top of your eye health and identify any changes. If you have been diagnosed with cataracts, and your ophthalmologist agrees you have reached the point where surgery is necessary, be sure to discuss your surgical options to determine the best choice for you. There are many factors to consider when selecting the optimal type of cataract surgery, so partnering with your ophthalmologist for their expert insight is critical.
At ReFocus Eye Health, our ophthalmologists serve as experts and leaders in cataract care. ReFocus doctors have performed 30,728+ cataract surgeries (data on file as of 2020.) We are ready and willing to partner with you as you explore your options for cataract treatment. Learn more about us here.