As we age, the lenses that sit behind the colored part of our eyes naturally become less clear. These changes often result in a cloudy, yellow discoloration, or cracks and fractures, and are called cataracts.
Different from serious degenerative eye diseases, “cataracts can actually be considered a normal progression of aging, since all people age 60 years and older will eventually experience them,” says Dr. Jeff Smith, Optometrist at Envision, Boulder.
Sometimes, cataracts may not be bad enough to warrant the need for surgery, but if they’re bothersome and disrupt vision, surgery and after surgery home care can help.
“Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure, and usually only takes 20 minutes or so,” Dr. Smith explains. “Once you arrive at the outpatient facility, you’ll be hooked up to an IV, administered calming medication, and given local anesthesia. During the procedure, you’ll be awake, but won’t be able to feel anything. Your surgeon will remove the cloudy lens from your eye, and implant an artificial lens in its place. Stitches aren’t necessary, no bleeding is involved, and with a skilled surgeon, it’s typically a non-traumatic procedure. If you need to have cataracts removed from both eyes, you’ll only do one eye at a time — so will have two separate procedures scheduled, usually about two weeks apart.”
In addition to ridding the eye of cataracts and therefore improving vision, cataract surgery can actually change the power of your eye, and reduce the need for glasses and contact lenses. Before the operation, your surgeon will calculate the natural power of your lens, and then implant one that is more powerful. Cataract surgery essentially restores the eye, and acts as a form of refractive surgery.
As with all procedures, cataract removal has its risks, but they are very minimal. Most complications affect the retina, and are easily remedied with medication (along with a longer healing period). Infection hardly occurs from cataract surgery.
After cataract surgery, you’ll spend the remainder of the day and the first night with a protective shield over the eye that was operated on. You’ll wake in the morning, and see your surgeon or optometrist the next day for a post-op check-up and patch removal. “From here, patients need to maintain a strict regimen of eye drops (usually a steroid and antibiotic, three to four times each day) for two to three weeks,” says Smith.
If you’re unable to instill the drops, you may want to consult a caregiver agency and arrange for in home assistance. If transportation is an issue, a friend or family or professional caregiver can also help to ensure that you are able to attend necessary post-operative appointments.
Recovery is typically pretty quick and painless, especially since general anesthesia, which is often challenging to recover from, is unnecessary during the procedure. The day after surgery, patients usually see fairly well, and can function normally two to three days post-surgery (depending, of course, on individual recovery and any complications that may have arisen). “It’s usually recommended that patients are conservative with any physical activity that may harm the eye, and avoid severe sun exposure, swimming and hot tubs until the eye has fully healed,” cautions Smith.
Typically, one month after the cataracts in both eyes have been removed, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will fit you for any reading glasses or other glasses that may be necessary.
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