Clearing Up Cataracts

Many of us joke about our eyes starting to fail us as we get older. The good news is treatment is no laughing matter - especially when it comes to cataracts.

Cataracts are the leading cause of vision in loss in people over age 55. The lens of our eye lets us see clearly, but as we age, the lens can cloud, causing what's known as a cataract.

Cotton-O'Neil ophthalmologist Dr. Babak Marefat compared cataracts to the frost on a car window. Put on defrost, he says, and more light gets through, allowing you to see clearer, sharper images. For the eye, Marefat says, "defrost" usually means lens replacement surgery.

Such procedures have been done for decades, but they've seen improvements in the last five years. Marefat says the lenses have gotten smaller and easier to implant, allowing surgeries to be done through smaller incisions. Older lens were more rigid, needing a larger incision. Marefat says a typical procedure today needs only a three-millimeter incision. High-energy ultrasound creates a wave that breaks up the cataract-obscured lens, and it's removed with a vacuum-type device. The new lens is rolled into a sleeve and inserted on the eye, where the body’s own heat helps it unfold into place.

The procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Marefat says patients wear a patch for about a day and use eye drops for a couple weeks. He says many people have good visual recovery the next day. He says another advantage of the newer lenses is that some brands can also filter out the part of the light spectrum that contributes to macular degeneration.

Marafat says a lens replacement won't fix underlying issues, like diabetes or other disease, that could contribute to cataracts, but he says it can help you make the most of what you have so you can focus on a better life.

The National Eye Institute offers more information about cataracts at www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts.asp.


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