According to the National Eye Institute, a cataract is a clouding in the lens of the eye that affects vision. The lens is a clear section in the eye that focuses images on the retina in the back of the eye. The image projected onto the retina is then transmitted through the optic nerve to the brain, allowing sight. If the retina is clouded by a cataract, light is partially blocked on its way through the lens, causing blurry vision.
Cataracts mostly occur in older people as one of the facets of aging. In fact, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have gone through cataract surgery by the age of eighty. Given that a great many people will have to deal with cataracts at some point in their lives, it's a good idea to learn about them for preventative measures.
Cataracts can have causes other than age. Cataracts are almost always caused by age, but age isn't the culprit of cataract formation. There are four other types of cataracts:
● Secondary cataracts develop after eye surgery for other eye disorders, such as glaucoma.
● Diabetics can develop cataracts as a symptom of their disease.
● Traumatic cataracts can be caused by injuries to the eye. These cataracts may take years to develop.
● Congenital cataracts develop before birth or early in childhood. On occasion, the cataracts are small enough not to affect vision, but if they do, surgery is required.
● Radiation cataracts develop after exposure to certain types of radiation.
Cataracts are not easy to detect. According to the NEI, most people with cataracts don't realize how poor their vision has actually become. When asked about their vision pre-surgery, most diagnosed with cataracts say their diminishing vision did not affect their daily activities at all. After the procedure, however, more than 60 percent claimed their lives had improved. While cataracts are most common in people in their 60s or 70s, it's possible to develop cataracts much earlier in life.
There are two basic types of cataract surgery. The first is called phacoemulsification, which uses ultrasound to destroy and remove the cataract. A tiny incision is made in the clear covering of the eye, known as the cornea, and a needle-like probe is inserted into the lens. The probe transmits waves of sound which disintegrate (or emulsify) the cataract into tiny bits, which are then suctioned up by the probe. This process leaves the back of the lens intact as a place to set the artificial lens. There may or may not be stitches required to close up the cornea afterward.
The second type is not used as often as the first, because it requires a larger incision. Known as extracapsular cataract extraction, this procedure involves removing the entire front section of the lens which contain the cataract and replacing it with an artificial lens. This particular procedure is only used when there are complications disallowing the first method. Since the incision is larger, stitches are always used to close up the eye afterward.
Cataract surgery has a quick recovery period. Most cataract patients notice an immediate improvement in their vision after surgery. Others will have a gradual improvement over time. Doctors usually give cataract patients a three-week period during which they are to avoid bending or lifting anything heavy. During this time, they should also avoid any contact with the affected eye. Within those restrictions, normal activities can start as soon as the eyepatch is removed -- which is almost always the day after surgery.
Cataract surgery is usually painless. The patient is sedated during the surgery, and an extra anesthetic is added to numb the eye before any incision is made. There may be some discomfort, but most patients do not experience any notable levels of pain.
Cataracts do not grow back. Every once in a while, a secondary cataract can develop as a result of the first surgery, when the membrane holding the lens implant gets cloudy. The usual treatment is a quick laser eye surgery session. It takes between ten and fifteen minutes and does not require a trip to the hospital. Once it's done in a doctor's office, that's the end of the process.
Today, a cataract is a relatively minor problem which can be easily corrected. With regular checkups, it's easy to keep your eyes the best they can be for an entire lifetime.