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Cataract surgery: What you should know

March 22, 2018 | UC Irvine Health
physician discussing cataract surgery with patient

Is your vision a little blurry? Do colors seem washed out? Are you more sensitive to the glare of bright lights? These are all signs that your eyes may be developing cataracts.

If so, you are not alone. More than half of Americans over age 60 have eye cataracts. By age 80, 90 percent of people have developed them. But the condition is easily treatable, said Dr. Sumit Garg, medical director of the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.

In fact, about 3.5 million cataract surgeries are performed each year, making it one of the most common in the United States.

Short outpatient procedure

Today, cataract surgery is performed on an outpatient basis. It takes only a few minutes for the surgeon to replace the clouded lens with an artificial lens designed for your eye. Many patients find that their vision after surgery is better than before they developed cataracts, said Garg, an associate professor in the UC Irvine School of Medicine and vice chair of its Department of Ophthalmology.

As we age, cataracts form when a change in eye’s structure causes the naturally clear lens to become cloudy. Regular exams can help determine whether cataracts are affecting your vision in one or both eyes.

Common cataract symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble seeing in dim light
  • Poor night vision
  • Glare or halos from bright lights
  • Double vision
  • Faded colors

If you are wondering whether cataract surgery is right for you, here are a few important points to consider, said Garg.

People typically see fast results

Cataract surgery has evolved significantly over the last few decades. What used to involve a lengthy hospital stay is now an outpatient procedure that takes about 10 to 15 minutes per eye.

Each surgery is performed about a week or two apart, and rarely do you have to stop or change any medications you may be taking. Before surgery, your ophthalmologist measures your eyes to help you determine what type of intraocular lens is best suited for your vision. Within a day or so after the old, cloudy lens is replaced, most people’s vision is already improved.

Even though the procedure is quick, you’ll still need someone to drive you to and from your surgery. That’s because anesthesia may be administered to help soothe any anxiety people may have. Most people experience no pain, only a slight pressure in the eye area during the procedure, which involves the use of ultrasound to gently break up the cataract for removal.

Discuss what you want to achieve

Cataract surgery is a highly individualized procedure. Everyone’s eyes and eye measurements are different.

Resist the temptation to compare your experience to anyone else’s. For example, you might have 20/20 vision, but if you are experiencing strong glare from lights at night, you may be a candidate for cataract surgery. Your frustrations and vision concerns should be thoroughly discussed with your doctor during an initial consultation.

Choose the right lens for you

Say you love to read and you want to do so without glasses.

The variety of approved synthetic lens available today may make that possible.

You may be able to toss your glasses for distance vision, too. And if you have different vision in each eye, that may also be fixed with the right lens. Cataract surgery may even be an opportunity to correct astigmatism.

High success rates

Most people do exceedingly well with cataract surgery. Its success rate is about 99 percent. Complications from cataract surgery are rare but may include corneal swelling and/or inflammation in the eyes. The artificial lens may not be the correct power depending on the quality of your pre-operative measurements, which can be affected by such factors as dry eyes, corneal scarring and whether you have had previous refractive surgery, such as LASIK.

Another potential risk is that the vision problem isn’t due to cataracts. Conditions such as dry eyes, retina issues, diabetes and macular degeneration may also cause vision changes. It’s important to rule out these factors with your eye doctor before considering cataract surgery.

Lubricate your eyes with artificial tears

Cataract surgery measurements depend on the health of your ocular surface, so it’s often helpful to start regular use of artificial tears before your initial consultation, as well as before surgery, if you decide to have it.

Artificial tears can help your doctor prevent incorrect eye measurements, which can occur due to dry eyes. The ocular surface needs to be as smooth and moist as possible for the most accurate measurements, which helps determine what lens options are available to you.

Know your eye surgeon’s background and success rate

Don’t be embarrassed to ask what your surgeon’s track record is with cataract surgery. Besides having a surgeon who is well-trained and ethical, you want someone who is good at explaining your options and who makes you feel comfortable.

Your surgeon should be able to clearly explain the pros and cons of surgery as well as the pros and cons of waiting. For example, sometimes it may be better to treat the ocular surface rather than rush into surgery.

Want to learn more about cataract surgery options? Check out Garg’s free lecture, “Customizing Cataract Surgery – Choosing the Right Technology for You” at 7 p.m., Monday, March 26, 2018 at the Newport Beach Central Library.

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