Boomer Body Tuneup: Cataract Surgery

By Terri L. Jones | March 1st, 2014

The good news is any loss of sight due to a cataract is completely reversible with surgery. The even better news is today’s cataract surgery is a simple procedure and definitely a heck of a lot easier than it was in your parents’ day.


THE RX

IF YOU’VE ANSWERED YES …

While you may experience some or all of the symptoms above because of a cataract, it’s also possible that you may not notice any of them at all. That’s because the progression of a cataract, or clouded lens, is extremely slow and the changes gradual. Often, your brain will accommodate for these subtle shifts in vision, and it’s not until you’re having trouble reading the eye chart at the optometrist’s office that you realize your vision has taken a downturn. However, left unchecked, cataracts can literally cloud your vision to the point of blindness.

TODAY’S CATARACT SURGERY

The good news is any loss of sight due to a cataract is completely reversible with surgery. The even better news is today’s cataract surgery is a simple procedure and definitely a heck of a lot easier than it was in your parents’ day.

Years ago, the clouded lens was removed in one piece, which required a 3-8-inch incision and up to seven stitches. A patient could be in the hospital for days, lying flat on his or her back with sand bags around his or her head to minimize movement. Plus, once the lens was removed, they were left needing very thick glasses or hard contact lenses in order to see.

Nowadays, the ophthalmologist uses a small pen-like ultrasound device to simultaneously break

up and vacuum out the damaged lens through a tiny (only 1/100-inch), self-sealing (no stitches) incision. With the procedure taking approximately 10 to 15 minutes, you’re usually in and out of the surgery center in less than two hours and noticing a dramatic improvement in your vision the very next day.

“The key to understanding how the technology has improved is that it’s reducing trauma to the eye,” says ophthalmologist Dr. Bryan Brooks of Richmond Eye Associates. “The patient comes out of the operating room barely feeling like they had anything done. … It has allowed patients to return to their normal daily activities as soon as the day after surgery.”

SEEING CLEARLY NOW

During the same surgery, the ophthalmologist can now also replace the damaged lens with an intraocular lens (IOL), artificial lens implanted in the eye. The new lens can be monofocal (to allow you to see up close or at a distance), multifocal (to allow you to see up close, at arm’s length and at a distance), or accommodating (essentially monofocal lenses on a hinge to adjust focus like a natural lens).

According to Brooks, “It’s really neat to take someone who has been in glasses since grade school, take the cataract out, replace it with a new lens and they no longer need glasses, except for maybe some reading.”

INSURANCE AND ALTERNATIVES

Patients should note that regular monofocal lenses – and not multifocal or accommodating lenses – generally are the only IOLs covered by insurance and Medicare.

Also, other approaches are available. The cataract surgery described here is the method used and recommended by Brooks. Consult your ophthalmologist for the approach that is most suitable for you.

CASE STUDY: LARRY MALLORY

Larry Mallory was driving home from work one night and experienced double vision. Because the 53-year-old is a diabetic, Mallory thought his glucose level might be the culprit. While his sugar turned out to be fine, his vision continued to worsen. By the next morning, he could barely see out of his right eye.

Mallory was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes. Cataracts, which are most commonly an age-related condition, can also be caused by diabetes, oral steroids and some forms of chemotherapy.

While most cataracts creep up on you, the severity of Mallory’s escalated very quickly. By the time of his surgery, his vision was so diminished that he couldn’t drive or work. “You could hold your hand in front of my face and I couldn’t tell you how many fingers you had up,” recalls Mallory. “I really couldn’t even see your hand – just a shadow.”

Since the surgery, Mallory’s vision is better than it’s been for more than 44 years: 20/20 in both eyes. Without his ever-present glasses, he says people who have known him for years don’t even recognize him.

“Everyone told me that colors would be so much brighter and everything would be so much clearer,” says Mallory. “They weren’t lying!”

Terri L. Jones is a Richmond freelance editorial writer and advertising/marketing copywriter – and frequent BOOMER contributor. Visit her at WordPlayCreative.com. 

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