The eye lens is naturally clear and filled with water as well as special proteins that help focus light on the retina. In many people, these proteins begin to “clump up” and obscure vision. This is known more commonly as a cataract. Simply put, cataracts are the clouding of the eye’s natural lens. Cataracts are the primary cause of blindness in people over 40 years of age and are also recognized as the leading cause of blindness in the world.
There are 3 types of cataracts:
- A subcapsular cataract is a cataract that occurs at the back of the lens.
- A nuclear cataract is associated with aging and forms deep in the central zone (nucleus) of the lens.
- A cortical cataract is characterized by white, wedge-like opacities that start in the periphery of the lens and work their way to the center in a spoke-like fashion.
Cataracts grow slowly. Blurry vision and mistaken colors are common signs of forming cataracts. People usually begin noticing signs as they get older. In addition, eye exposure to sunlight and smoke can aid in the formation of cataracts. Research into causes of cataracts is continuously being conducted and examined to understand the nature of cataracts and prevent them.
Treatment of Cataracts
Cataracts impede day-to-day processes and can inhibit normal functionalities. Wearing sunglasses and quitting smoking can help slow down their development. There is, however, only one treatment option available to completely remove cataracts: Cataract Surgery.
The only known method to treat cataracts is to completely remove the infected lens and cataract and replace it with a synthetically made lens. There are two types of cataract surgery: Small Incision cataract surgery and Extracapsular surgery.
Small Incision Cataract Surgery
Small Incision cataract surgery(SICS) is the most common of the two types of surgeries. During a SICS operation, a tiny incision is made on the cornea, the outermost part of the eye covering the lens.
Then after softening the cataract, the second portion of the surgery entails removing the softened cataract and implanting new lens implants.
Originally, this surgery was only done manually by surgeons. Using a process called phacoemulsification, ultrasound waves are used to break up the lens and allow the surgeon to remove the lens small pieces at a time.
However, though they are experts, they were still susceptible to human error. In addition, collateral damage to areas surrounding the lens was highly likely due to an excessive amount of energy used to break the cataract.
Extracapsular Surgery differs from SICS surgery in that the surgeon creates a large incision in the cornea. This allows for the lens to be removed in one piece.
Then, similarly to SICS surgery, the new artificially created lens is implanted in the lens capsule.
Use of Lasers in Cataract Surgery
New laser technology and its applications in cataract surgery removes large amounts of human error and provides consistent results with multiple patients and cataract surgeries.
Laser technology allows surgeons to make highly precise incisions, open the lens capsule, soften cataracts, correct low levels of astigmatism to remove cataracts with the most accurate method possible. The results often include faster vision recovery, less ocular inflammation, and a more accurate position of the lens implant in the eye such that renewed vision is optimized.
Who is a Good Candidate?
When cataracts become large enough to begin inhibiting everyday tasks such as reading or seeing street signs, it is time to consult a doctor. Tests are then conducted to determine if cataracts exist and their severity. The doctor will assess if the cataracts are large and severe enough that surgery is needed. (Vision impaired by small cataracts can be restored (temporarily fixed) with glasses.)
How Long is the Overall Process?
The initial phase includes the consultation with the doctor. After the doctor has determined that cataracts are present, lens options are chosen based on lifestyle demands and measurements are done to determine the power of the lens implants. Then the actual surgery is scheduled at the earliest convenience.
The procedure is separated into treatment for one eye at a time. Anesthesia is given to reduce anxiety and eliminate discomfort or pain. The actual surgery itself usually takes about 20 minutes, including the laser portion. After the first eye is done, the second eye surgery is scheduled for one to two weeks later.
Eye drops containing antibiotics and steroids are taken the starting day and continued for several weeks. Improved vision is commonly recorded the next morning following a healing period for the lens. The use of laser technology reduces the time needed for recovery, aiding in faster vision repair.
How Long Do Results Last?
As long as the rest of the eye remains healthy, the benefits of cataract surgery can be experienced for a lifetime. Cataract surgery offers patients excellent and stable vision for the rest of their life.