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Cataracts: What is a Cataract and When Do I Need Surgery?

The development of cataracts is a natural part of the aging process. Everyone will get one cataract in each eye if he or she lives long enough. Cataracts occur when the natural lens inside the eye changes shape and color. This prevents light from reaching the back of the eye and results in a decrease in vision. Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness worldwide.

Luckily, in the United States, cataracts are often detected prior to causing blindness because patients will seek treatment with their ophthalmologist complaining of blurry vision. Common symptoms of cataracts include: problems driving at night, increased glare, trouble reading, or a decrease in vision that is not correctable with glasses. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be time for cataract surgery.

Cataract surgery is the most common surgery performed in the world. Cataract surgery is performed at a surgery center or hospital. It is an outpatient procedure most often performed under 'twilight' anesthesia. Cataract surgery involves a lens exchange: the old lens is removed (the cataract) and a new prosthetic lens is inserted in its place. It is generally a low risk operation with a recovery time of a few days to one week. Patients can expect their vision to improve one day to one week after surgery depending on the density of the cataract.

With modern technology, several new advances have been made in cataract surgery to improve the patient's range of vision and correct astigmatism. This is called refractive cataract surgery. Refractive cataract surgery can often give patients minimal reliance on glasses for one or multiple distances. These new advances include: laser assisted cataract surgery, toric lenses, multifocal lenses, and accomodative lenses.

If you think you have a cataract, you should make an appointment with your eye care provider for a complete examination.