A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. The lens works much like a camera lens, focusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye. The lens also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away.
The lens is mostly made of water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and allows light to pass through it. As we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract, and over time, it may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.
Most cataracts are age-related. However, cataracts can also be present at birth or occur at any age. Cataracts can also be caused by diseases such as diabetes or can occur as the result of long-term use of certain medications, such as steroids.
Symptoms of Cataracts
A cataract starts out small, and at first has little effect on your vision. You may notice that your vision is blurred a little, like looking through a cloudy piece of glass. However, as cataracts worsen, you are likely to notice some or all of these problems:
- Blurred vision that cannot be corrected with a change in your glasses prescription
- Ghost images or double vision in one or both eyes
- Glare from sunlight and artificial light, including oncoming headlights when driving at night
- Colors appear faded and less vibrant
Cataract surgery is very successful in restoring vision and is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States. More than 90% of people who have cataract surgery regain very good vision, somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40, and sight-threatening complications are relatively rare.
During surgery, the surgeon will remove your clouded lens and replace it with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL). Presbyopia-correcting IOLs not only improve your distance vision, but can decrease your reliance on reading glasses as well.
If you need cataracts removed from both eyes, surgery usually will be done on only one eye at a time. An uncomplicated surgical procedure lasts only about 5/8 minutes. However, you may be in the outpatient facility for 90 minutes or longer because extra time will be needed for preparation and recovery.
For patients who are still working, a few days off after surgery and light-duty for a week or two is usually all that’s required for complete recovery.