Q: What is a cataract?

A: A cataract is NOT a film nor a growth on the top of the eye. A cataract, in simplest terms, is a clouding of the clear lens INSIDE the eye. When that lens becomes cloudy or opaque, sharp vision is no longer possible. Cataracts are not contagious. They can not spread beyond the lens nor harm the eye or any other parts of the body. Cataracts cannot be prevented nor can their progress be stopped or reversed. Cataracts usually develop with age just like gray hair. They are caused by a decrease in normal protein structures within the eye as you age, and there is no known way to prevent this from happening. Cataracts can also possibly be caused by glaucoma, high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, or trauma to the head.

Because each person's body and system is different, it is difficult to predict just how quickly your cataract may develop. In some people, the clouding proceeds at a rate rapid enough to cloud the eye's vision in only several months. For others, it may take several years. The second eye may also be affected, but usually this does not occur at the same time as the first eye.

There may be a pattern to the cataract's development. Initially you may notice a gradual decrease in your ability to see things clearly at a distance. This is followed by problems with reading and other activities requiring close vision. Eventually, vision at all distances is greatly impaired. You may feel as though there is a "skim of fog" over your eye. You may clean your glasses, but things still look dim. You may also find that you are more sensitive to bright light or glare, especially at night. The good news is that with today's modern surgical techniques and advances in technology, cataract surgery is highly successful.

Q: What is a cataract? (cont.)

Surgery is the only way to correct vision loss from cataracts. But don't consider it until the cataract keeps you from doing the things you like to do. A farmer, a truck driver and a watchmaker all have different needs.

Basically, we advise patients to wait until the vision in the afflicted eye becomes so poor that it interferes with daily routines - such as driving or reading. So, the choice really comes down to what you want and when you're ready to have it done. Your lifestyle, your work habits, your personal well-being are the true deciding factors when choosing the right time for cataract surgery.

Q: How is my cataract repaired?

A: It isn't repaired, it's removed. The only way to improve your vision is to remove the clouded lens. As we mentioned, cataracts can only be removed surgically and CANNOT be removed with a laser; however, lasers can be used in their treatment after surgery. While there are several ways of removing the clouded lens, many patients have their cataracts removed using the most modern surgical technique called phacoemulsification. Cataract surgery by phacoemulsification is simply the breaking up of the cataract with a tiny instrument using sound waves, and removing the cataract with a gentle suction in the tip. It is important to understand that the eye itself is never removed during cataract surgery. The entire procedure is done on the eye in its normal position.

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