The lens in your eye is responsible for focusing the light onto the retina in the back of the eye, just as a camera lens would focus light onto the film in a camera. Being diagnosed with cataracts means that your naturally clear lenses (behind the iris or colored part of your eye) have become opaque or hazy.
Until about the age of 40, your lens is able to accommodate or change its power to allow near vision, even when the distance vision is corrected. After this time, accommodative power begins to weaken. This loss of accommodation is called presbyopia and people often need bifocals or reading glasses to compensate.
Cataract surgery involves removing the entire lens and replacing it with a new clear manmade lens. This lens implant remains inside the eye permanently and does not require care or planned exchanges, like contact lenses.
When the lens/cataract is removed in surgery, any residual accommodative power is lost, but the patient has the benefit of being able to choose the power or type of new lens implant to customize the result to their specific needs.
None of the implant options guarantee that you will be free of glasses, but patients often have a reduced dependence on glasses.
Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure that generally takes about 10-15 minutes and is usually done under local/topical anesthesia. Patients are understandably nervous about being awake for eye surgery, but are routinely very surprised at the ease and comfort of the procedure. Patients typically return to their normal activities within a few days.
The usual routine involves starting antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drops 1-3 days before surgery and then employing a tapering course of drops over the next few weeks. These drops decrease the chance of infection, increase comfort, and allow a faster and more complete restoration of vision. A few weeks after the surgery, new glasses may be prescribed, as needed.
About 15-20% of patients will develop an “after-cataract” in the weeks, months or years after the surgery. This means the lens capsule (the transparent membrane around the original lens/cataract) that holds the lens implant itself became hazy. Fortunately this is easily treated in the office with a painless laser and it takes just a couple of minutes.