Your eye contains a transparent structure called a lens. Like a lens in a camera, its purpose is to help you adjust your focus on objects at varying distances. Cataracts are the clouding of this lens. This age-related condition starts imperceptibly and typically progresses over time. They can also develop quickly because of certain medications, health conditions, smoking, or trauma. Symptoms include loss of color vision, blurriness, halos, and trouble seeing near bright lights and at night. Advanced cases of cataracts can result in blindness. In fact, cataracts are responsible for half of all cases of blindness in the world. Additional dangers are also present due to reduced vision, including an increased chance of falls. If cataracts progress to the point where you are no longer able to participate in normal activities, it is time to seek medical attention for the condition. Cataracts never get better on its own, and the condition gets worse over time.

Vision with (left) and without (right) Cataracts

What Is Cataract Surgery?

The only way to remove the cataract is through cataract surgery. It is a quick and simple outpatient procedure, also known as phacoemulsification. The surgery itself takes only about 10-20 minutes. The eye is anesthetized with eye drops to ensure patient comfort throughout the procedure. The first step of the surgery involves a series of small incisions, created either with a diamond blade or laser, into the cornea, or the front window of the eye. These incisions provide access to the interior of the eye for the surgical tools.

Next, the surgeon uses either a needle, a pair of forceps, or a laser to create a hole in the capsule where the lens resides.

An ultrasound probe is then used to break up or emulsify the cataract before it is removed from the eye.

To replace the natural lens, a small artificial lens implant known as an intraocular lens (or IOL) is placed into the eye, where it unfolds into the proper position.

Typically, a patient will receive a standard monofocal IOL, which provides excellent vision for either near or distant objects (but not both). The technology for IOLs has now advanced to the point where the patient can a newer multifocal lenses that give patients a range of vision from near, far away, and in between, depending on his or her vision correction needs.

What Happens After Cataract Surgery?

Recovery from cataract surgery is very quick. The vast majority of patients report improved vision within the first 24 hours after surgery. There will be some slight discomfort, itchiness, as well as sensitivity to light and touch, but these symptoms are normal and should disappear after a couple of days. Typically, patients only have surgery on one eye at a time, so a second surgery will be required if cataracts are present in both eyes.

Posterior Capsular Opacification

On occasion, some patients who have undergone successful cataract surgery may experience a decrease in their vision or problems with glare. This is a condition called Posterior Capsular Opacification and requires a visit to the surgeon’s office. This is due to a growth of natural lens cells on the back side of the capsule where the IOL sits. To remove those cells, a Nd:YAG laser is used to excise the parts of the capsule where they reside.

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