Cataracts are a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. Cataract surgery, which involves the replacement of the cloudy lens, is one of the most common procedures in the country, and more than 3.5 million cataract surgeries are performed every year.
Thanks to advances in technology, cataract surgery today is safer and provides better outcomes than ever. With our sophisticated technology, procedures can be customized to find the best fit for you. But, it can be challenging for patients to choose between the myriad of new options available.
June is Cataract Awareness Month, which makes now the perfect time to review the signs of cataracts, the latest technology available for treatment, and what to expect with surgery.
Signs You Need Cataract Surgery
“By age 80, more than half of Americans have been diagnosed with a cataract or have had cataract surgery,” says Rajesh K. Shetty, MD, ophthalmologist and CEO of Florida Eye Specialists. “However, many of my patients don’t realize that cataracts can begin to develop early, in their forties and fifties.”
Dr. Shetty says cataracts develop slowly and painlessly over time. In the early stages, symptoms may be so mild that patients don’t realize their vision is changing. But as a person ages, cataracts can grow to the point where they can get in the way of living an active, independent life.
“Cataracts can affect night vision, meaning you may not be able to drive home from work in the evening,” Dr. Shetty says. “As people continue to work later and later in life, this becomes a big problem for our patients.”
Those with advanced cataracts may also experience symptoms like blurry vision, double vision, sensitivity to glare and light, fading colors, and they may need to change their prescriptions for glasses or contacts more frequently.
Vision needs have become more demanding with advances in technology and today’s active adult lifestyle.
“Vision needs have changed a lot,” Dr. Shetty says. “We spend much more time looking at phones and other devices, with our friends and family communicating with us constantly. We’re traveling more, looking at GPS, driving during dusk, dawn, rain, and nighttime. We’re playing golf and reading. The demand for clear vision at all ages is the highest it’s ever been.”
Which Type of Surgery Is Right for You
If you are planning to have cataract surgery, there are two surgical options to choose from: traditional and laser-assisted.
Traditional cataract surgery is one of the most common and safest surgeries in the world. One of the primary benefits to traditional cataract surgery is that most health insurance plans will cover at least part of the cost of the procedure.
However, it does have some limitations. It cannot correct astigmatism, and patients who receive traditional cataract surgery will still need to wear glasses for intermediate and near vision 100% of the time after surgery.
One of the ways cataract surgery has improved in recent years is through the development of laser-assisted cataract surgery.
Unlike traditional cataract surgery, where a scalpel is used to make an incision in the eye by hand, laser cataract surgery is computer guided. The surface of the eye is mapped to tell the laser the exact location, size, and depth for incisions. This results in a safer, gentler procedure.
The laser also creates a more precise and accurate outcome, which allows eye surgeons to correct a wide range of vision problems, including astigmatism, far-, and near-sightedness at the time of cataract surgery.
This gives you the option to correct two eye conditions with one procedure and reduces or even eliminates the need for glasses.
Dr. Shetty has had great experience with this procedure. Florida Eye Specialists was the first practice in Northeast Florida to offer laser cataract surgery to patients and has performed nearly 7,000 procedures to date.
In addition to laser cataract surgery, Dr. Shetty says the latest technology in premium cataract surgery is the advance in intraocular lens (IOL) technology. An intraocular lens is the artificial lens that is implanted in the eye during cataract surgery after the eye’s cloudy natural lens has been removed.
While surgeons have been using these lenses for decades, today’s versions offer crisper, higher quality vision and more function than they’ve ever provided before, according to Dr. Shetty.
“Now, we have the ability to correct near, intermediate, and far vision at the same time. It’s called trifocal lens technology, and it’s the number-one used lens in Europe,” said Dr. Shetty. “The first trifocal lens came out in the U.S. this fall in 2019. We’ve had a great experience with it so far.”
What to Expect Before and After Surgery
Prior to cataract surgery, Dr. Shetty says your eye surgeon should walk you through the steps of the procedure to answer any questions that may come up. Some important questions to ask include what kind of cataract surgery is available to you and what kind of intraocular lenses you can choose from.
“It can be hard for patients to remember the questions they should ask in the moment, so we recommend writing your questions out in advance and bringing them with you to the appointment,” Dr. Shetty says.
During the operation, you’ll be given a local anesthetic to numb the area around your eye. The sedation will make you feel a bit groggy afterwards, so you’ll need someone to drive you home. Generally, Dr. Shetty says that cataract surgery patients do not experience any pain after surgery.
“There may be some itching or discomfort for the first few days, and you may need to wear an eye patch or protective shield on the day of surgery,” Dr. Shetty says. “Also, avoid bending at the waist or lifting heavy objects over five pounds for the first week after surgery.”
The recovery time for cataract surgery is short. You will begin to see the results in your vision in the first few days and should make a full recovery within 4 to 6 weeks. Many patients report clear vision within several hours after cataract surgery.
But each person heals differently, according to Dr. Shetty, and you may need as long as a week or two before you see images in their sharpest focus. Your cataract surgery recovery should be complete in about a month, when your eye is completely healed.
See Better Now Than You Ever Have
Today, cataract surgery offers patients the opportunity to not only restore their vision, but to also possibly see better than they ever have before. It can reduce dependency on glasses and make daily activities like reading and driving easy again.
“We do what we do because we can improve people’s lives,” Dr. Shetty says. “You lose so many faculties and abilities as you age—skills you didn’t realize you were losing, your energy, how fast you think and run. But here’s one area of your life you can actually improve upon. You can see better, function better, and do things you haven’t done in years. These are truly phenomenal results.”
Eye surgeons recommend that patients aged 60 and older have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. In addition to cataracts, your eye care professional can check for signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and other vision disorders.
Virtual Eye Appointments Available Now
Do you have questions about eye care or cataract surgery? Schedule a virtual appointment from the comfort and safety of your home. The dedicated doctors and care staff at Florida Eye Specialists know how important your vision is. To schedule your virtual appointment, call one of their St. Johns-area locations or visit FloridaEyeSpecialists.com/telemedicine.
This article was written for Florida Health Care News.