Posted March 7, 2019
Each year, over 4 million cataract surgeries are performed in the United States. By age 80, over half of adults have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. But younger people also have cataracts. One in four cataract surgeries is performed on people younger than age 65. Here’s what to know about cataract surgery and a new type of lens that’s improving vision and eliminating the need for prescription glasses.
What is a cataract?
The eye has a natural internal lens that focuses light into your eye. Over time, the lens may slowly become cloudy and yellow, which doctors call a cataract. The cataract blocks light making it difficult for people to see clearly. If left untreated a cataract can cause blindness. How does this happen? There are a few reasons. But one of the most common is prolonged exposure to sunlight, so that’s why wearing sunglasses is so important, even on cloudy days.
How are cataract surgeries performed?
Eye surgeons use ultrasound to break the cataract it into tiny pieces and then remove them through a self-sealing incision. An artificial clear lens is inserted in place of the natural lens. Cataract surgeries usually take about 10 minutes.
Historically, the artificial lens used for cataract surgery corrected only two vision problems:
- Farsightedness (hyperopia) – people can see far away, but not close up.
- Nearsightedness (myopia) – individuals can see close up, but not far away.
People who needed prescription eyeglasses before cataract surgery still required some form of vision correction after the procedure.
Newer lenses are available
Many people with cataracts have other vision problems that the initial artificial lens didn’t improve, such as presbyopia, an age-related issue impacting close-up vision, and astigmatism, where vision is blurry or distorted because the cornea is oval shaped instead of round.
In 1998 the first artificial lens designed to correct astigmatism was introduced, but many still needed over-the-counter readers to correct close-up vision.
About 10 years ago, a multifocal lens was introduced to correct presbyopia and astigmatism. Part of the lens corrected distance vision, while another part corrected near vision. With this lens correction, people have excellent vision for reading, working on computers, driving, and improved night vision without seeing halos and glare, and didn’t need prescription eyeglasses.
Improved multifocal lenses. Recently modifications to the multifocal lens were introduced. It still corrects astigmatism and presbyopia, but now also improves contrast and depth, creating a better overall visual experience. People who had this lens implanted report that their vision is as clear and sharp as it was before their cataracts.
Cataract surgery using the multifocal lens still takes about 10 minutes to perform. But patients pay more out-of-pocket for the multifocal lens. Medicare and health insurance only cover the cost of the regular artificial lens. Patients say that the extra cost is well worth the improved vision, especially when considering they no longer need to buy readers or prescription eyewear.
What are the common signs of cataracts?
Cataracts develop slowly, so the symptoms gradually appear. Some common signs are:
- Double vision, usually in one eye
- Blurry, cloudy or dim vision
- Problems seeing at night
- Sensitivity to light
- Seeing halos around lights
- Colors look faded, and blue and green colors look similar
- Problems distinguishing an object against a background of the same color
What are the benefits of cataract surgery?
People with cataracts struggle to see well, so often they withdraw and don’t participate in social activities. They can become depressed and lose connections with others. Researchers discovered that cataract surgery could improve people’s long-term brain health and activity level as they age. And people have fewer incidents of falls and driving accidents when they can see well.