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What is a Cataract and How are Cataracts Removed?

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a gradual clouding of the natural lens in the eye and can develop as one ages. Over time, this natural lens, which is normally transparent and helps to focus light, becomes clouded with protein deposits. This ultimately reduces light that reaches the retina, and images become blurred or faded. Cataracts can occur in one or both eyes; by age 80, about half of all Americans can develop them.

Initially, vision may be improved with the use of strong prescription glasses or bifocals; however, as vision becomes more impaired, surgery is the only way to remove a cataract. This surgery is extremely common – almost four million cataract surgeries are performed every year in the United States, and as the American population ages this number is expected to grow. During the procedure, the cataract is removed and replaced by an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (or IOL).

If it is determined that cataract removal is the best solution for you, a pre-op exam will be scheduled in the weeks  prior to the procedure during which your doctor will conduct some tests, including a measurement of the cornea and the shape and size of your eye. This will determine the proper size and fit for your intraocular lens.

On the day of your procedure, you may be asked not to consume any solid food or drink at least six hours prior to surgery. Cataract surgery can be performed in an outpatient center or hospital, but in most cases is done in an outpatient center.


How are cataracts removed?

Your eye will be numbed with anesthetic eye drops and you may be given an injection around the eye area as well. You’ll be awake during surgery and may see some light and movement. Your surgeon will create microscopic incisions around the eye and your cornea, allowing him or her to reach the lens to be replaced. Using these incisions, the cataract will be broken up and removed so it can be replaced with the new, artificial lens, which is inserted into place. The incisions made are “self-sealing” and will close over time. Immediately after surgery a shield or patch will be placed over your eyes, and after a brief rest in recovery for about 30 minutes, you will be released.

You may experience itching and mild discomfort after surgery, but this is common. Some fluid or discharge is also common, and your eyes may be sensitive to touch or bright lights. This discomfort should cease after about two days. You’ll be asked to use eye drops to aid in healing and reduce the risk of infection, and you’ll need to wear an eye shield or eye glasses to protect the eye.

While most can resume most normal activity immediately, full healing of the eye may take about 4 to 6  weeks.  Typically, patients are advised to avoid prolonged stooping/bending and heavy lifting or straining during the first week alone.  . Initially vision may still be a bit blurry while your eyes begin to heal and adjust to the new intraocular lens or “IOL”.  However, most cataract patients return to normal 20/20 vision relatively quickly after the procedure.

Interested in learning more about cataract surgery or if you’re even a candidate? Read about our cataract surgery options here.