Perhaps your troubles started with blurry vision. Maybe you see a halo around lights as you drive at night. Or maybe your granddaughter noticed your mismatched socks were blue and purple on a day you thought you’d chosen a black pair.
If so, you may have cataracts – and that’s likely to be good news.
Almost everyone who lives long enough develops them. By age 80, half of all Americans have had cataracts or cataract surgery; the average age for the operation is 68. When it’s over, most people report a dramatic improvement in clarity and color perception. You’ll find more information on Horizon Eye Care’s Cataract Center page.
The lens in your eye sits behind the iris and pupil, focusing light onto the retina so an image can be recorded. That lens consists mostly of water and protein; over time, the protein clumps up, creating cloudy areas. Sometimes smoking or diabetes worsens the problem.
Age causes most cataracts, though they can be congenital. Trauma or overexposure to ultraviolet rays can have effects years later, the way too much sun leads to skin cancers long after the event.
People who don’t get their eyes checked may think they see normally, but in reality, parts of their color spectrum have disappeared. (Impressionist painter Claude Monet used brighter reds, yellows and greens in old age to depict what he saw. Companions thought he was conducting experiments, but scientists later decided he’d had cataracts.)
Cataracts left untreated can cause blindness. Yet they’re easily detected by an eye exam, grow so slowly that doctors have time to monitor them and can be dealt with in a common surgery that quickly returns patients to their normal routine.
Doctors usually wait to operate until a patient must limit activities, quitting golf because the ball looks fuzzy or declining dinner invitations that require a drive after dark. The surgeon then removes your lens and inserts a permanent plastic one.
The procedure may last a few hours, including paperwork and preparation; patients go home the same day and may drive a car a day later. (No yoga for a while, though: Downward positions put too much pressure on the eye.) Most people need both eyes done, and surgeons separate those procedures by two to four weeks.
Unlike replacement knees and hips, the surgery need never be repeated. There’s no tissue for the body to reject, so bleeding and infection are rare. On occasion, a thin membrane may form behind the implant, and the doctor can remove it painlessly with a laser.
Specialty lenses can provide improved distance or close-up vision; some patients choose to make one eye a “reading” eye and the other a “distance” eye. Toric lenses correct astigmatism, even if that’s been a lifelong problem.
Doctors wait four to six weeks after the operation to prescribe eyeglasses if needed, but many patients just buy over-the-counter magnifiers to help with small print. And they never wear mismatched socks again – except by choice.