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Cataract Update

By Becky Sisk, PhD

c) 2002

Cataracts are a common cause of vision loss but are easily
treated by a qualified ophthalmologist. August is Cataract
Awareness Month, a reminder that cataract surgery can clear
up your eyesight and improve your quality of life.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, half of
the people between age 52 and 64, and almost everyone over the
age of 75, will have a cataract. Another way to look at it
is that one in seven people in the United States has a cataract.

What Is a Cataract?

A cataract is a clouding in the lens of your eye. The
onset of the condition is slow and usually related to aging.
Other causes are congenital birth defects, alcoholism, diabetes
mellitus, eye injury, smoking, and long-time exposure to
ultra-violet (UV) light.

How Would I Know If I Had a Cataract?

Visual problems are not apparent in the beginning stages of
a cataract. When they appear, you may have the following

* A gradual blurring of your eyesight.
* Poor distance vision.
* A fading or yellowing of colors.
* Double vision in the affected eye.
* A heightened sensitivity to light.
* Trouble seeing well enough to drive at night.
* Frequent need for changes in eyeglass prescriptions.

How Are Cataracts Treated?

At the onset of cataracts, high magnification glasses may
improve vision, but there are no medications or eye-drops that
will help. Some people think that a cataract needs to be "ripe"
before it can be removed, but this is not true. Instead,
cataracts are removed when they interfere with normal
activities of daily living.

Ophthalmic surgeons remove cataracts under local anesthesia
in the outpatient area of a hospital or in special, stand-alone
clinics. They take the cataract out through a tiny slit at the
edge of the sac that contains the clouded lens. They usually
use "phacoemulsification," a process that liquefies the lens
so it can be withdrawn through a needle and syringe.

A clear plastic replacement lens (the intraocular lens)
is inserted in the sac and the incision is sewn up with a
suture that dissolves later. Other procedures are also used,
so you should discuss your own case with your surgeon. The
common misconception that lasers are used in cataract surgery
is not true. Fortunately, cataract surgery is covered by
insurance and Medicare.

What Will I Be Able to Do After Surgery?

Patients can go home as soon as they are stable. You
should avoid heavy activity and avoid rubbing the affected
eye. Other instructions depend on the physician's
preferences. Most cataract surgeries are successful, but a
few complications are possible, so be sure to follow up with
the surgeon postoperatively.

You will probably be happy with
the results of your surgery. However, be aware that cataract
surgery will not help other eye problems you may have, such
as glaucoma, macular degeneration, or eye problems
related to diabetes.

What Type of Doctors Perform Cataract Surgery?

Cataracts require medical intervention, so it is important
that you go to a board-certified ophthalmic surgeon, rather
than to an optometrist, when you suspect a cataract.
Doctors with the initials "F.A.C.S." behind their names have
demonstrated their knowledge and skills and are board-

Where Can I Find Further Information?

Try these websites:

* The American Academy of Ophthalmology

* The American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery

* The National Eye Institute

* Prevent Blindness America


Becky Sisk is owner and webmaster of NurseScribe,

This article is for information use only and is not medical
advice. Please consult your physician if you are concerned with
the condition of your eyes or other medical conditions.

For free articles on medical topics, go to


About the Author
Becky Sisk is owner and webmaster of NurseScribe,


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