Blurry vision, as if the eye were smeared with a thin coat of petroleum jelly, sensitivity to light and the appearance of “halos” when looking directly at a light source are all symptoms of cataracts. Considered a common condition that comes with age, the group most affected by cataracts is those more than 60 years old, but cataracts may begin to form in middle-age, affecting one or both eyes. Diabetics and smokers are more prone to developing cataracts; failure to protect one’s eyes from sunlight also may contribute to their development.
The lens of an eye is made up of water and proteins arranged to focus light entering the eye. This enables the eye to focus on objects at varying distances. Over time, the proteins may clump together, resulting in a foggy spot that will grow and eventually diminish vision. Initially, there may be no symptoms, and only an eye exam will detect the formation of a cataract.
In the early stages of cataract development, vision acuity may be restored with corrective lens, use of brighter lighting and magnifying glasses. When a cataract develops to the point that it interferes with daily activities, such as reading or driving, one needs to look at the option of having the cataract surgically removed.
In the past, this surgery required removal of the lens through an incision in the eye. The patient would then need to wear glasses to replace the removed lens. Modern cataract surgery has evolved rapidly since the 1980s. The clouded lens may now be removed by a process called phaco-emulsification. In this procedure, an ultrasound probe is inserted into the lens and the cataract is dissolved. The lens is then replaced with a soft, plastic lens implant. Surgery can be done within an hour using local anesthesia. If both eyes require surgery, it is common to repair one eye at a time, allowing a few weeks between each cataract operation.
Following surgery, some may experience slight soreness and itching of the eye; the doctor may prescribe eyedrops to aid in healing and lessen the chance of infection. Someone recovering from a cataract operation may continue with daily activities, taking extra care to protect the healing eye. The doctor may recommend the use of an eye patch or glasses immediately following surgery. Leaning forward at the waist, or lifting heavy objects, should be avoided during the recovery period. A cataract surgery patient can expect full recovery within eight weeks.
Mark Liew writes on topics of cataracts, such as modern cataract surgery and lens implants.