Local Eye MDs Advise: Don’t let cataracts cloud your vision

Aug. 30, 2013

Learn about the most common surgery for older adults

If you live long enough, you will probably develop one. In fact, six out of 10 people over age 60, and almost everyone over age 80 has one. Despite this prevalence, most people don’t know the facts about cataracts until they come “eye-to-eye” with one. Don’t let poor vision cloud your future. Educate yourself about cataract signs and treatment.

What exactly is a cataract?
"A cataract is the clouding of the natural lens located inside the eye behind the pupil,” states Dr. Brett Rhode, Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. “This lens works like a camera lens—focusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye to form the images you see. As you age, changes can cause clouding of this lens. This clouding is called a ‘cataract.’ As the clouding advances, or cataract ‘ripens,’ it can blur and glare vision to the point of inhibiting day-to-day functioning. Depending on the type of cataract, the clouding may take years or just months to progress.”

What causes a cataract?
Cataracts are most commonly caused by the aging process (six out of 10 people over age 60 have some form). This clouding may also occur due to heredity, injury, disease (such as diabetes), medications (steroids/cortisone), birth defects, and long-term, unprotected sunlight exposure.

How do you treat a cataract?
“There are no drugs, drops, glasses or exercises that will prevent or cure cataracts,” says Dr. Daniel Ferguson, a partner at Eye Care Specialists, one of the state’s leading ophthalmology practices. “The only effective treatment is to make an opening in the eye, surgically remove the cloudy lens (cataract), and replace it with an intraocular lens implant (IOL) to once again focus light rays onto the retina,” adds Ferguson, who, along with his partners, is trained to use high-frequency ultrasound to gently break up and vacuum out cataracts through a tiny incision.

Intraocular Lens Implants (IOLs)
IOLs not only provide sharper vision, but often improve sight to levels not seen in years. Standard IOLs are mono-focal, acting like miniature internal contact lenses set for a single strength or prescription power—usually to provide clear vision in the distance for driving, watching TV, and other tasks. Most patients with these lenses still need reading glasses or bifocals. Newer “premium” IOLs provide multiple focusing zones for a full range of vision near and far or correct astigmatism with little or no need for glasses. Your surgeon will help you determine which type of IOL is best for your eye, health, lifestyle and budget.”

When should you have surgery?
Dr. Mark Freedman, an ophthalmologist with thousands of cases under his surgical cap advises, “It’s not necessary to wait to remove a cataract until it’s so ripe that almost all vision is blocked. In fact, if you wait too long, it can grow so dense that the operation becomes riskier and more difficult. I tell patients that if the cataract is preventing you from doing tasks, new glasses won’t improve clarity, and no other conditions exist which would negate the benefits of removal (like severe macular degeneration), then it’s time for surgery.”

Why do people hesitate?
An eye care specialist with special expertise in difficult cataract cases, Michael Raciti, MD, observes, “Some people delay surgery because they think it’s unaffordable. They don’t realize it’s covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most insurances. Others think they are too old or that poor vision is just a fact of life that comes with age. We want everyone to know that vision loss from cataracts is usually reversible, and with today’s advanced techniques and equipment, cataract removal is one of the safest outpatient operations—even for the very elderly.”

What happens before surgery?
“Once a patient decides to proceed, we put our years of experience to use in planning for the best possible outcome,” explains local ophthalmologist and Harvard graduate Dr. Daniel Paskowitz. “We enter information regarding the length of the eye and curvature of the cornea into a special computer that calculates the power of IOL which would best restore vision to pre-cataract levels. We then customize the type of implant and surgical technique to fit the patient’s needs—taking into consideration overall health, any diabetic or retinal problems, lifestyle, and other factors. We never lose sight of the fact that even though we’ve performed tens of thousands of cataract procedures, each patient is unique.”

What happens after surgery?
After surgery, patients go home and resume almost all activities within hours, and vision noticeably improves within days. “Most people are so pleased with seeing things brighter and clearer, that they can’t wait to have their other eye done,” notes Dr. David Scheidt, past president of the Milwaukee Optometric Society.

PROTECTION TIPS (against cataracts and other eye conditions)
1. Get regular eye checkups because eye diseases don't always have symptoms. After age 40, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. If you have diabetes, you need an eye exam at least once a year. Ask your doctor how often you should have your eyes checked.
2. Protect your eyes from the sun with sunglasses and a hat.
3. Don't smoke.
4. Control your blood pressure.
5. Eat healthy foods, including lots of fruits and green leafy vegetables.

Eye Care Specialists’ doctors are dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and macular degeneration. They frequently lecture to the public and fellow physicians and have written their own series of booklets on these conditions. Call 414-321-7035 for FREE copies or to schedule an appointment for a thorough eye screening (usually covered by insurance or Medicare) at their offices on 7th & Wisconsin Avenue, Mayfair Road across from the mall, or 102nd & National Ave. They also offer information at www.eyecarespecialists.net.

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