A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye. A normal lens is clear. It lets light pass to the back of the eye. Having a cataract is another normal part of the aging process. About 50% of Americans age 65-74 have cataract. Once over 75 years of age the risk of having a cataract increases to almost 75%. It is quite common to have a cataract in both eyes, but frequently one eye may be worse than the other because of the developmental speed of a cataract. The following are some of the telltale signals that a cataract is developing:

These symptoms may be signs of other vision problems as well. See your eye doctor so that he/she may determine the exact nature of your problem.

A cataract is diagnosed through a regular eye exam. The eye doctor will probably give you eye drops to enlarge your pupils. He will examine your eyes with a bright light to see if the lens is clear or not. The following tests may also be administered to test your sight and to evaluate how well you might see after the surgery:

It often is the case that a change in glasses, stronger bifocals, or the use of a magnifying glass may improve your vision. Just because you have a cataract does not mean it must be operated on immediately. On the other hand surgery may be required because a cataract is so large that it could cause blindness. If after consultation with your doctor you do decide on surgery there are some important facts for you to know about. Most people do not have to stay in the hospital overnight after you have had cataract surgery. You definitely will need someone to help bring you home after the surgery. The operating facility will not let you go home by yourself. There are 3 types of surgery to remove lenses that have a cataract:

A person who has cataract surgery will get an artificial lens to replace the lens that has been removed. A plastic disc, called an intraocular lens, is placed in the lens capsule inside the eye. It takes a few months for an eye to heal after cataract surgery. Other choices are contact lenses and cataract glasses. Your doctor will help you decide which choice is best for you. A cataract can not return since the lens has been removed. It is not that unusual for the lens capsule to become cloudy once again. The treatment for this condition is a procedure called YAG capsulotomy. The doctor uses a laser beam to make a tiny hole in the capsule to let light pass. This surgery is painless and does not require a hospital stay. Cataract surgery has a success rate of 95% in patients with otherwise healthy eyes. If you have a cataract in both eyes, most experts say it is best to wait until your first eye heals before proceeding with an operation on the second eye. You will be restricted in movement for a short period of time after the surgery, and practically speaking it takes several months for your eye to heal properly. Your eye doctor will advise you of your recovery timetable.

Here are some questions you might ask when you are faced with cataract surgery:


Many thanks to AHCPR Publication No.93-0544

By Allan Rubin

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