How Do I Know If I Need Cataract Surgery

How Do I Know If I Need Cataract Surgery

Eye surgery has come a long way. From less pain to rapid recovery the ophthalmologist community continues to make great strides in battling diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. It is cataracts, however, that have become almost commonplace with the National Eye Institute reporting, “by age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.”

Prevent Blindness America (PBA) cites cataracts as being one of the major causes of blindness worldwide, surpassing the causes from macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy combined. PBA reports that cataracts affect more than 22 million Americans age 40 and older. And as the U.S. population ages, more than 30 million Americans are expected to have cataracts by the year 2020.

The concern some people in this demographic have is when to know it’s time to get cataract surgery. This is especially true for men who often attempt to “work through” or “live with” physical discomfort or even pain just to avoid visiting a doctor. However, when it comes to your eyes there isn’t always “wiggle room” for waiting as untreated cataracts can do some serious damage to your vision. Yet, after cataract surgery, vision loss can be restored and some report a reduction or complete elimination of dependence on eyeglasses.

Know your symptoms and your options when it comes to cataracts and cataract surgery. It could make a major difference when it comes to seeing things you love or slowly going dark.

Various Cataract Afflictions

Before you become frightened by’Googling’ cataracts, know that there are several different types. Each one is treatable, but needs to be diagnosed as early as possible for optimal results.

All About Vision describes the three types of cataracts as,

  • Subcapsular cataract – Occurs at the back of the lens. People with diabetes or those taking high doses of steroid medications have a greater risk of developing a subcapsular cataract.
  • Nuclear cataract – Forms deep in the central zone (nucleus) of the lens. Nuclear cataracts usually are associated with aging.
  • Cortical cataract – Characterized by white, wedge-like opacities that start in the periphery of the lens and work their way to the center in a spoke-like fashion. This type of cataract occurs in the lens cortex, which is the part of the lens that surrounds the central nucleus.

What to Look For

The three cataract types can be accompanied by a variety of symptoms. It is important to note that even minor bouts with these symptoms could warrant consideration for cataract development.

Cataract symptoms may include:

  • Blurriness
  • Seeing “halos” around lights
  • Need for brighter light for reading and other activities
  • Seeing your surroundings in a cloudy haze
  • Experiencing less color
  • Double vision in a single eye
  • Fading or yellowing of colors
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescription
  • Sensitivity to light including nighttime headlights and signals

Where You Stand

Getting an eye checkup will certainly determine your visual standing. If you are still not sure whether to go to a doctor or even if you have cataract symptoms at all, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Can I perform my job and drive safely?
  • Do I have problems reading?
  • Is it difficult to watch TV?
  • How do I see at night?
  • Do vision problems affect my level of independence?

Answering ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions could mean your eyes are struggling for one reason or another. If it is minimal, cataracts could be forming, but if it is a common challenge you might be living with cataracts and not even realize it.

Cataract Surgery Expectations

If your doctor recommends cataract surgery, there are a variety of procedures that can be utilized to get you back on your feet. There are various approaches to cataract surgery however this is a basic list of what to expect :

  • Outpatient – The surgery doesn’t take long and you can go home after
  • Preparation – You are anesthetized and do not experience the procedure awake
  • Procedure – Surgeon makes a circular incision around the eye’s lens, and then uses ultrasound technology to break up and remove the cloudy lens
  • New Hardware – After the infected lens is removed, a new, synthetic lens called an IOL or intraocular lens is slipped into the eye
  • Tools – Some surgeons use a scalpel for this procedure but more are switching to an ultra-short-pulse (femtosecond) laser. Dr. Christian Song, a cataract and refractive surgeon at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary comments on the femtosecond laser, “It allows us to make incisions much more precisely than we can by hand, and softens the cataract for easier removal. I feel it’s also made the surgery a little safer,”
  • Accuracy – A technology called intraoperative wavefront aberrometry (IWA) measures total refractive error of the eye. Harvard Health reports how IWA may be used, “During a cataract procedure, the surgeon can correct minor astigmatism by making carefully placed incisions in the cornea to normalize its curvature.” Dr. Song explains, “This essentially allows us to more accurately ensure we’re implanting the appropriate lens power for the eye, and increases our chances of hitting our target. This allows a person to see more clearly at a distance with less dependency on glasses, though reading glasses are generally still required for near vision,”
  • Recovery – The eye will be covered with a protective shield for a few days; special eye drops may need to be administered; vision should improve within a few days. Complete healing can take up to eight weeks.

Better Quality of Life, Longer Quality Life

Dealing with any physical or mental challenge can really make it hard to get through each day. However, when that challenge is lessened or even completely repaired it can give one a new lease on life.

In 2013 the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) posted a report titled, ‘Study Finds Cataract Surgery Patients Live Longer.’ It was reported that,

“Previous studies have shown that older persons with cataract-related visual impairment likely have a greater mortality risk than their peers who have normal vision – and that cataract surgery might reduce that risk. New research from Australia has confirmed [] that there is a 40 percent lower long-term mortality risk in those who had the [cataract] surgery.”

Possible factors for a longer life after cataract surgery may include improvements in physical and emotional well-being, optimism and greater confidence associated with independent living after vision improvement.

So, how do I know if I need cataract surgery? While this answer is going to be different for everyone, recognizing signs, or just not wanting to live in discomfort any longer is essential to taking the next step toward cataract surgery. Although it is surgery and should be considered with care, the procedure and recovery are much more manageable, with better results, than ever before.

Be sure to have routine eye exams and conversations with your eye care professional about whether you are a candidate for cataract surgery.