Poor vision caused by cataracts used to be one of the scourges of getting older-nearly as unavoidable as wrinkles and a lot more debilitating.
Today, though, cataract surgery has made it possible for seniors to see as well as they did at 16-and in some cases, even better.
The eye's lens lies behind the iris and focuses light onto the retina. As we age, protein in the lens clumps together, making the lens cloudy. Though 73 percent of people 64 to 74 years old have cataracts, many experience no difficulty with their vision. When cataracts become large enough to cause blurring, double vision or other symptoms that interfere with normal activities, surgery is recommended, says William Tsiaris, MD, chair of the department of ophthalmology at Rhode Island Hospital.
What to expect during surgery
In most cases, the patient receives a local anesthetic, a tiny incision is made in the eye and the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a substitute that 90 percent of the time gives people 20/40 vision or better. "The surgery is performed as a same-day procedure with the patient going home within a few hours," says Tsiaris. "The day after surgery, patients place drops in the operated eye, continuing for several days to three or four weeks," Tsiaris says. "There is usually no discomfort."
One eye at a time
Even when people have cataracts in both eyes, the operation is performed only on one eye at a time. After surgery, some prefer to wear a patch for the remainder of the day. Others may want to take advantage of the whole new world that's opened up-taking a walk amid the autumn foliage, reading the newspaper or watching television. Because recovery time is brief, the results so dramatic and the success rate high, some people may want surgery even when their vision is only slightly impaired. Tsiaris warns that "patients should take this surgery very seriously-the presence of cataracts is not indication enough to have the operation."
But for those who've watched the world grow blurry as they've grown older, and especially those who've also spent a lifetime with glasses or contact lenses, it's exhilarating, liberating and confidence boosting to get a new lease on sight, to be able to say, "I can see clearly now."