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June is Cataract Awareness Month

Although most of my patients are surprised when I tell them they have a cataract, cataracts are very common and part of the natural aging process.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is the natural clouding of the lens inside your eye. This cloudy lens makes vision blurry, dulls colors, and causes glare and halos around lights.

Who gets cataracts?

Although some people are born with cataracts, most people get cataracts when they are older. Many people start to develop cataracts around the age of 40. According to the National Eye Institute, over 40% of Americans have cataracts by age 75. Things like eye trauma or certain medications can cause cataracts to develop faster. The National Eye Institute estimates that by 2050 about 50 million people will have cataracts in the US.

What causes cataracts?

Inside each of your eyes is a lens. The lens is located behind the color part of your eye (your iris). The job of your lens is to focus the light that comes in through your pupil to the back of your eye. Your eye sends this information to your brain and your brain tells you what you are seeing. When you are born this lens is very clear. Throughout your life, the lens breaks down and instead of being clear it becomes cloudy. A cloudy lens is called a cataract. The cataract becomes cloudier and cloudier over time until it is hard to see. Even though it may seem like your vision got blurry all of the sudden, your cataract has slowly been worsening over time.

What is the treatment for cataracts?

When you aren't seeing well you visit your eye doctor for a new glasses prescription to clear up your vision. During your exam, your eye doctor checks your glasses prescription and the health of your eye. Your doctor can see whether or not you have a cataract. If your doctor determines that your blurry vision is caused by a cataract, your vision cannot be cleared by glasses. As mentioned above, the cataract is INSIDE your eye. Glasses are located OUTSIDE of your eye; changing the prescription will not fix the cloudy lens in your eye. The only way to see better is to have the cataract removed through surgery.

What is cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery removes the cataract from your eye and is done by an ophthalmologist. The procedure is called an “out patient” procedure because you go home after the surgery; it does not require a hospital stay. During the surgery, the ophthalmologist makes a small incision in the front of your eye, breaks up and removes your cloudy lens.  A clear lens implant is put in place of the cloudy lens that was removed. Cataract surgery is done one eye at a time. The surgery on the second eye usually occurs within 1 month of the first eye's surgery.

Are glasses needed after cataract surgery?

There are different types of lens implants that can be used in cataract surgery. Some implants match your glasses prescription better than others. You and the ophthalmlogist decide what type of lens implant is best for you. Your need for glasses after surgery will depend on what implant you picked. You may need to wear glasses all the time or you may only need glasses for detailed vision tasks.

Will the cataract come back after surgery?

No, cataracts do not return after the first surgery. The lens implant will never get cloudy like your natural lens. However, scar tissue can grow on the back of your implant and cause the vision to get blurry again. This happens often after cataract surgery. If the scar tissue does grow, the ophthalmologist uses a laser to remove the scar tissue. This procedure is done in the ophthalmogist's office. The scar tissue will not grow back once it is removed.