The very words "cataract surgery" are enough to inspire fear of blindness for many. It doesn't have to be that way. In most cases, the fear is unwarranted. The fact is that cataract surgery is fairly routine. In the United States, it is also one of the safest surgeries that you can have.
A cataract is a clouding that develops in the lens in the eye. People get cataracts for many reasons including diabetes, advanced age, or physical trauma to the eye. In some instances the tendency to get cataracts may be hereditary.
Not all cataracts require removal. However, if the cataract interferes with the activities of daily living such as driving, reading, or watching TV, then cataract surgery may be needed. A cataract that prevents your doctor from treating other eye conditions should also be removed.
Cataract surgery treats the cataract by removing the cloudy lens from the eye. Rarely the entire lens of the eye is removed (intra-capsular surgery). More frequently, the lens is removed from the eye, but the majority of the lens capsule is left intact (extra-capsular surgery). Sometimes ultrasound waves are used to soften and break up the lens so that it can be suctioned out (phacoemulsification). In any case, a new clear plastic lens is permanently implanted in the eye to replace the lens that had the cataract.
A patient who is going to receive cataract surgery usually receives local anesthesia first. Often the patient remains awake for the duration of the surgery. Usually, the patient can go home the very same day. At first, vision may be blurry as the eye heals. Your doctor will indicate when it is safe to drive.
After the surgery it is important to follow your doctor's recommendations. You may be asked to wear a patch for short period of time, or to put eye drops into your eye. Side effects from cataract surgery are rare, but they do sometimes happen. Side effects can include initial blurriness of vision, infection, bleeding, inflammation, loss of vision, double vision, or eye pressure. If you experience any of these problems, contact your doctor immediately.
You can prepare for cataract surgery by taking the following steps:
- Discuss your condition thoroughly with your doctor. If you have previously had problems with anesthesia, make sure that your doctor is aware of them. Ask any questions you may have.
- If you have not recently had a complete physical, it is a good idea to have one before having any type of surgery. This will help your doctor make sure that there are no additional underlying conditions that may interfere with the procedure.
- Be prepared to have someone drive you home from the surgery. It is more than likely that your vision will be blurry for a few days after the surgery. You will need to wait for your doctor's okay to resume driving. If you buy your own groceries, you may want to make sure that you have adequate supplies to last a few days before the surgery begins.
- If you are working, you will need to ask your employer for a few days of sick time until your doctor clears you for driving. (Do not attempt to drive until your doctor says that it is safe.)
- Make sure that financial arrangements are take care of ahead of time. You may need to contact your insurance provider to find out if there is a deductible and to determine whether or not their authorization for the procedure is required.
For more information on cataract surgery, visit the links provided along the right side of this page.