Cataract is the clouding of the eye's lens. When we look at something, light travels into our eye through the pupil and are focused through the lens and onto the retina, a layer of light sensitive cells at the back of the eye. The lens must be clear in order to focus light properly onto the retina. If the lens has become cloudy, this is a cataract.
If you vision has become blurry, cloudy or dim, or things you see are not as bright or colorful as they used to be, a cataract may have developed in one or both of your eyes. As a cataract slowly begins to develop, you may not notice changes in your vision at first. But as the cataract develops, you may find that it interferes with your daily activities. Performing a complete eye exam with our ophthalmologists can tell you whether cataract or another problem is the cause of your vision loss.
While cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss, especially as we age, they are treatable with cataract surgery. Since most cataracts are part of the normal aging process, they can not be reversed. There are no medications or eye drops that can make the cataract go away---surgery is the only treatment.
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During cataract surgery, the ophthalmologist removes the cloudy, natural lens and replaces it with a clear, artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). The IOL helps your eye regain its focusing ability and allows you to see clearly again.
The most common type of IOL is the monofocal or fixed-focus IOL. The monofocal lens helps you attain clearer vision at one distance. Note that eyeglasses and contact lenses are still required in order for you to see clearly at all ranges of distance.
Another type of IOL is the mutifocal IOL. The multifocal lens has two different focal points built into the lens, one for distance and one for near. The purpose of this lens is to make a patient less dependent on glasses after cataract surgery. Patients who choose to have this lens implanted typically do not use any glasses after surgery. To learn more about the multifocal IOL, click here.
A third type of IOL is the toric IOL. This lens corrects astigmatism, which is the condition when the cornea is steeper in one axis then another giving the eye an oval shape rather than spherical. Astigmatism causes blurry vision if uncorrected and can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Patients who have astigmatism can choose a toric IOL at the time of surgery which will correct the astigmatism. To learn more about the toric IOL click here.
Implanting an IOL takes about 20 minutes and is an outpatient procedure. In addition to a preoperative eye exam, your eye surgeon will take some measurements of your eyes and will give you topical or local anesthesia. The surgeon makes a few small incisions close to the edge of the cornea and then inserts a small, ultrasound instrument to break up the center of the eye’s natural lens. Then lens is then vacuumed out through one of the incisions. The surgeon folds and inserts the IOL through the same incision. These incisions are usually self-sealing, requiring no stitches. Once implanted, a multifocal or accommodative IOL allows you to focus on near or distant objects.
Risks associated with implanting IOLs include overcorrection or under-correction, infection, increased floaters, retinal detachment, dislocation of the implant, halos, glare, dry eye, decreased contrast sensitivity, clouding of a portion of the IOL, and loss of vision.
If you are going to have cataract surgery, you and your ophthalmologist should discuss which IOL may be best for your vision needs.