For individuals in their forties, fifties, or sixties, declining vision seems like it’s just part of life. But it may be a sign that you have cataracts and need to have cataract surgery.
What can make cataracts and the surgery confusing is understanding when to have surgery, or even knowing if you have cataracts. Keep reading to learn more about cataracts and to find out if you may need to have cataract surgery!
What are cataracts?
When you have a cataract, it means that the natural lens of the eye has become cloudy. Without cataracts, the lens is clear and easy to see through.
Over time, and usually as a result of aging, cataracts occur because proteins in the lens build up. As they build up, they tend to clump together in the middle of the lens, making it harder and harder to allow any light through.
If light cannot make it through the lens, you cannot see clearly. Cataracts develop and worsen over time, so you may find that your vision becomes more impaired as your cataracts continue developing.
What are the most common symptoms of having cataracts?
It may seem crazy, but many patients don’t realize they have cataracts, at least at first. That’s because it can take years or even decades before your cataracts even impair your vision.
Until this point, you could easily have cataracts and not even know it. If you have a cataract, the most common symptoms include:
- Blurry or distorted vision
- Finding it difficult to see at night, especially while driving
- Experiencing light sensitivity
- Needing more frequent prescription changes for your glasses or contact lenses
- Seeing halos around lights
- Seeing colors as more yellow or brown than they should be
- Needing brighter light to complete normal activities
- Double vision
For those with cataracts, you may experience some of these symptoms, or all of them. It depends on the individual patient.
If you are familiar with these symptoms, let your eye doctor know. You may have cataracts or other eye conditions. It’s always important to stay up to date on any conditions or diseases you may have so your eye doctor can monitor their progress and adjust treatment if necessary.
If I have cataracts, do I need cataract surgery right away?
Unfortunately, this is not a simple question, because it also depends on the individual patient. Generally speaking, cataract surgeons recommend waiting to have cataract surgery until cataracts are impeding your lifestyle.
If you can no longer take part in the things that you love to do, you may want to consider having cataract surgery. You should also consider having surgery if having cataracts is putting you in danger.
One thing that cataracts make much harder is driving at night. Many people with cataracts can’t drive at night safely because of the glare from oncoming traffic or streetlights.
Having cataracts may also make it almost impossible to live an independent lifestyle. If your vision has become blurry or clouded, you may find it harder to cook, clean, or even walk up and down your stairs around your home.
Losing the ability to do even these small things can be devastating, especially if you relish your independence! If you know that living a life relying on others to see won’t do, talk to your eye doctor about cataract surgery and if it’s time to have it.
What is cataract surgery like?
Once you decide to have cataract surgery, the next step is to book your procedure. You’ll need to have a cataract screening, which involves being measured for a lens implant, going over your medical history, and asking any questions about the procedure.
What you may not realize about cataract surgery is it’s one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures. Every year, millions of people undergo it.
At New England Eye Center, we only use the most state-of-the-art technologies available during cataract surgery. Though it’s called laser cataract surgery, cataracts are actually removed using sound waves, not laser light.
This is a process called phacoemulsification that involves breaking up the cloudy lens and gently removing the pieces of the lens using a vacuum and a tiny incision. After removing the cataract, the new lens is then folded and inserted through the incision.
This is put into the same “bag” that was used to hold the natural lens in place. Having an artificial lens to take the place of the previous lens is essential because it’s the only way to ensure you’ll have clear vision after cataract surgery.
For some patients, the artificial lens may not be put into the bag of the lens, but outside of it if your surgeon feels that’s best for your eye. Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure and only takes about 20-40 minutes to perform.
What is the recovery period after cataract surgery?
Like any surgical procedure, there is a recovery period after having cataract surgery. You’ll need to have someone that can drive you home after the procedure, so make sure you have a friend or family member lined up ahead of time.
Most patients should be able to drive after about a week, but your cataract surgeon will confirm when you can safely drive again. Expect to return for follow-up appointments the day after your procedure, followed by a week after, and then one month after.
It is imperative that you attend all follow-up appointments! If there are any complications, it is better to find them early on and treat them before they progress further.
If your vision seems blurry or unstable after cataract surgery, don’t worry. This is normal!
It can take a few days before your eyes get used to the new artificial lens. You will need to take eye drops that help your eye heal during your recovery.
Take these exactly as directed. You may need to set timers or reminders if it helps you remember to take them, but you must take them!
As you recover, your vision will start to clear up, but you will need to take it easy when it comes to physical activity. Avoid any heavy lifting or bending for the first month after cataract surgery.
If you love to swim, you will need to avoid any and all bodies of water for at least two weeks after your procedure. This includes lakes, rivers, hot tubs, and pools.
You are allowed to shower but keep your eyes closed as a precaution. Getting water in your eye after cataract surgery is not a good idea because it’s the perfect place for bacteria to breed. When you have a procedure like cataract surgery, it leaves you more susceptible to infection than normal.
What if I have cataracts in both eyes?
If you have cataracts in both eyes, it’s no reason to panic! Though you may think it makes more sense, you will not have cataract surgery on both eyes at the same time.
This would leave you unable to see and could lead to injury very quickly. Instead, your cataract surgeon will wait until you’ve recovered from surgery on the first eye, usually about a month to two months. After this recovery, they will then perform cataract surgery on the second eye.
The concept of cataract surgery can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be! Schedule a cataract screening at New England Eye Center in Boston, MA, and get your independence back from cataracts!