There was a time when having a cataract removed meant the prospect of general anesthesia, eye patches, stitches and long recovery periods. In recent years, however, cataract surgery has become a refined art, with the newest "no-stitch, no-patch" technique, topical anesthesia and permanent intraocular lens (IOL) implants. A variety of implant lenses are available, including the new Array multifocal implants, which allow patients to see clearly at near, intermediate and distance with less need for glasses. The surgeons at Montgomery Eye Physicians––Sanders Benkwith, M.D., Tom Lyle Mitchell, M.D., and John Swan, M.D.––perform this state-of-the-art surgery at the Montgomery Eye Surgery Center, located adjacent to the Montgomery Eye Physicians office (Benkwith Eye Center) on Zelda Road. If you notice sensitivity to light, distortion, or a gradual, painless dimming of vision, ask your doctor if cataract surgery is right for you. If you use another eye doctor regularly, we can arrange for you to see him or her for your follow-up visits.
Sooner or later––usually later––it happens to almost all of us. Our vision is no longer as crisp as it once was, we seem to be more sensitive to light, and images appear increasingly distorted. Cataracts––the clouding or thickening of the eye's normally transparent lens that blocks the passage of light to the retina––develop in just about everyone by age 75. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, you have a 50 percent chance of developing a cataract between the ages of 52 and 64. Cataracts can also occur in people with diabetes, high myopia (nearsightedness), and retinitis pigmentosa; in people taking steroids; and in patients with a history of trauma.
Luckily, however, cataracts are also one of the most correctable forms of vision loss. "Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness around the world, however in most cases, vision loss from cataracts is reversible," said Tom Lyle Mitchell, Jr., M.D., an ophthalmologist at MEP. "New techniques developed over the past decade have made cataract surgery the most frequently performed and most consistently successful procedures available in terms of restoring quality of life."
There are no drugs or exercises that will make a cataract disappear, and contrary to popular myth, cataracts are not usually removed using lasers. Dr. Mitchell and the other surgeons at MEP perform cataract surgery at the Montgomery Eye Surgery Center as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. During the procedure, the cloudy natural lens is replaced with an artificial lens to give the eye proper focusing power. The newest of these intraocular lenses––the multi-focal lens––allows many patients an even wider range of focus.
"In most cases, the improvement in the patient's vision is profound. For some of them, it really is like a miracle," Dr. Mitchell emphasized. "With other refinements such as using anesthetic gel instead of injections and small incisions that don't require stitches, our patients are now much more comfortable after the procedure and recover much more quickly."
So how do you know if you have a cataract? According to Dr. Mitchell, "Some people notice a gradual painless dimming of vision, distortion or 'ghost' images in either eye. When my older patients mention sensitivity to glare or bright light, or trouble driving at night, I suspect a cataract. Or, if patients need frequent changes to their glasses prescription, I'll evaluate them for a cataract."
One myth Dr. Mitchell wants to dispel is the notion that a cataract has to be "ripe" before it is removed. "That's just not true. The best time to have a cataract removed is when it starts to interfere with the things you like to do.
"It's a great procedure, but it's still surgery," he added. "For some people, cataracts don't particularly affect their quality of life, so for them it makes sense to put off surgery until they feel they need it. However, I have been impressed that many patients develop cataracts so gradually that they do not notice the loss of visual quality. They simply don't know what they are missing. But ultimately, the only person who can really decide when it is time to have it removed is the patient."