Trouble driving at night, difficulty reading, and overall cloudy vision: If these descriptions sound familiar, then you’re probably over 40 and either know someone who has had cataracts or are currently experiencing at least one yourself.
Cataracts are more common than you think. In the US alone, over 24.4 million people aged 40 and older have a cataract in either one or both eyes. And by 2050, this number is expected to double! But the good news is, cataracts are extremely treatable with cataract surgery, with the vast majority of patients reporting clear vision just hours after the procedure.
So, what all should you know about cataracts, cataract surgery, and the post-op recovery process? Keep reading! We’ve got all the knowledge you need.
Cataracts: What are they anyway?
A cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye. This most commonly occurs with age. Over time, the fibers and proteins in your lenses tend to disintegrate and cluster together, blocking out light. As a result, light rays cannot evenly distribute as they pass through, delivering a spotty, less-than-clear image to your retinas (i.e. distorting your vision). This process typically happens slowly, beginning as slight, manageable blurriness and eventually, as the cataract becomes more severe, turning into what most patients describe as extreme fogginess or loss of vision.
Patients with cataracts often observe these symptoms:
-Dulled, discolored vision
-Difficulty reading, especially without substantial lighting
-Constant changes in eye prescription
-Sensitivity to glares
-Seeing halos around lights
-Trouble seeing/driving at night
You should see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms for an extended period of time (more than a few days) or notice sudden changes in your vision. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, smoke, are obese, or have had eye injuries/surgery in the past, you are at an increased risk for developing these symptoms and thus cataracts.
In the case that eyeglasses or contact lenses will not improve your vision, the only remaining treatment option for cataracts is surgery. And since cataracts only worsen with time, most eye doctors recommend surgery as soon as a patient’s loss in vision begins to impede on his/her day-to-day activities. But thankfully, cataract surgery is quick (about 10-20 minutes!) and relatively painless, only requiring local anesthesia, which means most patients are able to stay awake during the procedure and no hospital stay is required.
During the procedure, the surgeon will numb your eye and then replace the clouded lens with an artificial lens (known as an intraocular lens). This lens will remain in your eye indefinitely, bending light rays as they enter to help you see clearly. Keep in mind that if both of your eyes have cataracts, you will need to undergo one procedure at a time, waiting until the first eye is healed before you have the second.
Recovery: What You Can Expect
As we mentioned before, you will not need to enter an inpatient facility following cataract surgery. Your surgeon will send you home almost immediately with careful post-op instructions—the first one being don’t drive yourself home! For the next few hours after surgery, you will need to wear a shield over your eye to protect it from lights and glares. After that time, most patients are allowed to remove the shield—with the exception of when they are sleeping or laying down.
It may take some time for your eye to adjust to the intraocular lens, so don’t worry if your vision is distorted for a few days or more. The majority of patients see clearly within a few hours after surgery, but depending on your healing process, you may not experience clear vision for a week, two at the most, although unlikely. Some patients report having itchiness or dryness after surgery. This is not a cause for concern.
You will likely have a follow-up appointment with your surgeon the day after your procedure. He will instruct you to apply anti-inflammatory drops regularly and to refrain from intense physical activity for a few weeks (and possibly to do more as every patient is unique). At a month post-op, your eye should be completely healed, and your vision should be clearer than ever.