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Cataracts Defined

What is a Cataract?
Cataract is the term used to describe a clouding of the natural lens of the eye. A clouded lens can be compared to a window that is frosted or "fogged" with steam. When the lens becomes cloudy, the light reaching the retina is blurred and distorted, and your vision is affected. This clouded lens is called a cataract, and it must be removed before vision can be restored.  Cataracts are not cancerous. They can be treated with a surgical procedure that has become a fairly common procedure in the United States. 

Underst​anding Cataracts

  • Transcript of Cataracts Explained: Douglas M. Wisner, MD

    Hi my name is Doug Wisner. I'm one of the cataract surgeons on staff at Wills Eye Hospital. I'm also in private practice at Thorp Bailey Weber Eye Associates. I'll be talking about cataracts today.

    Cataracts are a common problem that happen to everyone over time.  They are a natural aging change inside of the eye. Cataracts cause reduced vision because they are a clouding of the natural lens inside of the eye. They block the light from entering the eye, and patients can experience blurry vision, reduced contrast and color perception, and glare or halos from lights at night. The changes that cause cataracts are similar to the changes that happened to our skin and hair over time. I often tell patients that they are almost as inevitable as death and taxes.

    Fortunately, cataract surgery is a very successful and common procedure that can be done to improve someone's vision. The decision to do cataract surgery is made when a person has a functional limitation due to the cataracts. That might mean if you are a pilot or a long-distance truck driver you need cataract surgery in order to do your job. Or it might mean if you are retired you would benefit from surgery to enjoy hobbies, reading, or watching TV.

    In general if the cataracts are there, but are not affecting you in any way, the choice would be made to wait for them to get worse and do surgery at that point in time. That is where the old term, the cataracts are not ripe enough comes from.

    Cataract surgery is done by removing that cloudy natural lens that's blocking the light from entering your eye and replacing it with a clear lens implant. All of this is done under sedation and anesthetic in about 15 to 20 minutes, through an incision that is approximately 2 mm in width and does not require any stitches.

    After the surgery you would go home and then be seen in the office the next day. Most people are able to return to their daily activities within 24 hours after surgery and start to notice a significant Improvement in vision very quickly.

    At the time of cataract surgery it is important to consider your options, as there are lens implants that are available that can reduce your need for glasses after the surgery.

    The basic lens implant is covered by your medical insurance and can give you vision at one range, or focal length- similar to the old Brownie cameras. But it does not correct for astigmatism and does not correct for a range of focus that we all had earlier in life. That means that most people will still need to wear prescription glasses regularly after the surgery, or at least use reading glasses.  For people who desire some degree of freedom from glasses, there are lens implants that can adjust for astigmatism and give a range of focus.  Some people are great candidates for these types of lenses, for others they don't work as well. Your doctor can help you decide if you are a good candidate for this type of correction.  While these are great options, you should be aware that most insurance companies do not cover these advanced technology lens implants, and there is some cost to the patient.  This should not be a deterrent though, because the cost of glasses or contacts over the years can add up itself, and we spend a good bit of money on things less important than our vision every day.

    In summary, cataracts are a common, and readily reversible condition that affect everyone as they age. They are simply a sign of living long enough. When a cataract starts to affect a patient's function, surgery is a straightforward and safe option to improve vision and quality of life.

    If you'd like to learn more, please check out our website or give us a call.

(Video: Courtesy of the National Eye Institute)

Types of Cataracts
The two most common types of cataracts are: the cortical cataract and a posterior subcapsular cataract. Depending on the type of cataract, a patient will experience different vision problems, but the most common cataract symptoms include: 

  • Blurring vision 
  • Sensitivity to light or glare 
  • Double vision in one eye 
  • Poor night vision 
  • Needing brighter light to read 
  • Experiencing fading or yellowing of colors. 
If the cloudiness is not near the center of the lens, you may not be aware that you have a cataract. 
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