You’ve just had your annual eye exam and you’ve been informed that you have a cataract. Now what?
Don’t panic. Most of us may develop some form of cataract, if we live long enough. This is the clouding of the normally clear crystalline lens in our eyes. The lens helps us focus and see clearly, but with age, our lenses get cloudy. It’s only when the cloudiness interferes with daily activities that we need to be concerned and have the cataract removed. And not all cataracts require surgery.
Cataracts normally take years to develop, but they can progress so that you no longer see people and things. Most people with cataracts don’t realize how cloudy their vision is, and after cataract surgery, patients report that what they see is brighter, clearer and more colorful.
Although the need for surgery tends to peak in our 60s and 70s, cataracts can develop at any age. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
If cataracts are limiting your vision and quality of life, you may need surgery. For people in certain occupations, such as an accountant or truck driver, even a little blurriness interferes with daily life. Others may wait because they’re satisfied with their vision.
Cataract surgery is not painful, and it’s a common outpatient procedure. After sedating you, the doctor will typically numb your eye with eye drops, make a small incision, break up the cataract with ultrasound, and replace the clouded lens with an artificial lens or intraocular lens implant. Most people report that cataract surgery was easier than expected, and that dental procedures they’ve had were more uncomfortable.
While cataracts are not 100 percent preventable, there are ways you can delay their development. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses or a hat when out in the sun. Chronic ultraviolet radiation exposure can help cataracts grow. Also, avoiding smoking and maintaining stable blood sugar levels may delay cataracts.
Michael A. Hecht, O.D. is the Medical Director and Director of Provider Relations of Premier Eye Care, a leading third-party administrator of eye care benefits for health plans. More information about Premier is available at www.premiereyecare.net.