The bad news is everybody will get a cataract if they live long enough; the good news is getting the problem fixed has become much easier over the years.

Dr. Mark Huffman said there have been many advances in the surgery both in how long it takes and the equipment being used.

“As far as equipment it keeps getting better and better,” said Huffman, who has performed the surgery many times.

He added that since the tubing is now getting smaller and there are foldable replacement lenses, patients have a smaller incision site. Huffman said before the lenses were flat, patients had to have a bigger incision and there was more risk for vision loss.

“That is a huge advantage,” noted Huffman.

Where the surgery used to take half an hour to 45 minutes, now it usually takes less than 10 minutes.

With advances in surgical technology, wounds are now self sealing and don’t require stitches.

A cataract is a common eye condition especially for older individuals, especially individuals between 65 and 85 years old according to Dr. Huffman.

“Basically if you look at studies, 75 percent of 75-year-olds have cataracts,” said Huffman.

A cataract is a cloudiness in the natural lens of the eye. The development of a cataract in the adult is related to aging, sunlight exposure, smoking, poor nutrition, eye trauma, systematic diseases and certain medications such as steroids.

To help prevent a cataract, people should wear sunglasses and eat a balanced diet with vitamin C.

Other causes of cataracts are heredity, and injuries or trauma to the eye from such things as mowing accidents, bottle rocket accidents or blunt force trauma to the head.

For children who are born with a cataract, Huffman said they usually send them to a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Those who have a cataract often complain of blurred vision either at a distance, near or both. This may interfere with tasks such as driving or reading.

In a healthy eye, the lens is clear, but if a person has a cataract, images may be blurred. The effect is like trying to see the world through a dirty windshield.

Once diagnosed, it is important for patients to keep their regular appointments with their ophthalmologist to keep track of the cataract and their changing vision. In some cases changing the prescription in eyeglasses is fine and will help the patient for some time.

However, having a cataract cannot be reversed. Once a person’s vision becomes 20/50 or worse that is when surgery is required.

“When it starts really impacting their life and daily activities,” said Huffman, “that is when its time to do surgery.”

With 20/50 vision, a person would not be able to pass the required eye test to maintain their drivers license.

Once it is decided that a patient is going to have cataract surgery, it only takes a few short minutes to correct their vision during the surgery. The doctor makes a very small incision, about 1/8 of an inch (because it’s so small, no stitches are needed). Ultrasonic vibrations are used to break the cataract into small pieces. Once the cataract is removed, the intraocular lens is often folded and passed through the tiny incision where it is implanted inside the eye.

Though the surgery will make a person’s vision clear again, there are some risks. They include infection, bleeding inside the eye, swelling, perforation of the eye, double vision, elevated pressure, among other things.

“The day after the surgery, the patient usually can see 20/20,” said Huffman, “and that makes it very satisfying.”

After surgery patients will need apply eye drops, avoid rubbing their eyes, and call the doctor if there are any problems.

Huffman said between the surgeries he and his brother Jim perform, the practice does anywhere from 40 to 80 cataract surgeries a week. In the United States millions of people each year have the surgery.

Huffman has been doing cataract surgeries for 10 years and said he became interested in ophthalmology because it is a visual field. You can look into someone’s eyes and see so many things about the patient’s eye health and overall health alike.



Cataract FYI from the American Optometric Association

A cataract is a clouding of all or part of the normally clear lens within your eye, which results in blurred or distorted vision. Cataracts are most often found in persons over age 55, but they are also occasionally found in younger people.

No one knows exactly what causes cataracts, but it is known that a chemical change occurs within your eye to cause the lens to become cloudy. This may be due to advancing age, heredity or an injury or disease. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, cigarette smoking or the use of certain medications are also risk factors for the development of cataracts.

Although cataracts develop without pain or discomfort, there are some indications that a cataract may be forming. These include blurred or hazy vision, the appearance of spots in front of the eyes, increased sensitivity to glare or the feeling of having a film over the eyes. A temporary improvement in near vision may also indicate formation of a cataract.

Currently, there is no proven method to prevent cataracts from forming. During a comprehensive eye examination, your optometrist can diagnose a cataract and monitor its development and prescribe changes in eyeglasses or contact lenses to maintain good vision.

If your cataract develops to the point that it affects your daily activities, your optometrist can refer you to an eye surgeon who may recommend surgery. During the surgery, the eye's natural lens is removed and usually replaced with a plastic artificial lens. After surgery, you can return to your optometrist for continuing care.

From the American Optometric Association. Visit http://aoa.org/ for more information.

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