We sometimes joke about cataracts as we get older. What are cataracts? A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye. The National Eye Institute (NEI) says cataracts can blur your vision and make your vision hazy or less colorful. These symptoms increase over time and can cause someone to experience problems with reading or doing everyday activities.
Cataracts are very common as you get older. In fact, more than half of all Americans age 80 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to get rid of cataracts.
Most cataracts are age-related — they develop with regular changes in your eyes as you get older. But the NEI says you can get cataracts for reasons other than getting older — including eye injuries or following surgery for other eye problems such as glaucoma.
But no matter the type of cataract someone may have, the treatment is always surgery.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries today, but that doesn't mean everyone is ready. Since this type of eye surgery is incredibly common among older people, you will likely meet somebody who has already undergone the procedure. However, that doesn't mean you will fully understand the procedure and everything that goes with it.
Here are some things you need to know before getting cataract surgery.
You Must Prepare
While the surgery is not as invasive as some others, it is still one you must prepare for. For example, you must fast the night before your appointment, abstain from alcohol for at least 24 hours, and may even need to stop taking your standard medicine before the procedure. Your doctor and their staff will explain this in detail before surgery.
The eye surgeon will need to know your medications since some medications, such as blood thinners, can interfere with the surgery or increase the risks.
Complications Can Arise
Cataract surgery is relatively simple. During the surgery, the ophthalmologist removes the cloudy lens from your eye and replaces it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens. The surgery lasts about one hour and is almost painless.
Usually, you are awake during cataract surgery. Patients may notice lights or motion but cannot see what the doctor is doing. It is pretty simple and routine, but sometimes complications can arise following surgery where patients develop an infection of eye tissue and fluid, also known as endophthalmitis. These infections may seem random, but there are some risk factors that patients must be aware of.
For example, suppose you have a history of proliferative diabetic retinopathy or diabetic macular edemas (DMEs) or have had too many concurrent vitreous procedures. In these cases, you'll be at a higher risk of endophthalmitis. Endophthalmitis is an infection of the tissues or fluids inside the eyeball and is considered an urgent medical emergency.
There Are Different Kinds of Cataract Surgery
One question you should consult with your surgeon about is the different kinds of cataract surgery they can do. Traditional cataract surgery involves the surgeon making a small incision in your cornea to remove the cataract and place the new lens. It's worked for years, but the recovery process can be slow.
Recent innovations have made laser cataract surgery possible, but some offices don't have the proper equipment. Consider asking your surgeon if they can do laser cataract surgery as the time spent completing the procedure is shorter, and you will also have a much quicker recovery time.
Some people get other vision issues corrected when they have cataract laser surgery. Laser eye surgery can correct astigmatism, nearsightedness, hyperopia, and presbyopia.
Aging is something that everyone experiences, and the world is learning to accommodate these age-related issues in different ways. Many of us will face other age-related vision problems as we get older. These vision problems include:
Dry Eye - Our tear production tends to decline after age 40. Stinging, burning sensation, or a gritty feeling in the eyes are common symptoms. Eye drops are usually the solution; however, more severe issues need to be addressed by your ophthalmologist.
Glaucoma - We hear a lot about glaucoma as many older adults have it and are always checked for it. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over 60. There is usually no pain and is typically the result of fluid not draining properly. The fluid build-up leads to pressure inside the eye that can damage the optic nerve.
Floaters - If you see tiny specks, strings, and squiggles within your visual field, you have floaters. These specks will often 'float' throughout your field of vision. These are usually harmless and caused by normal age-related changes in the vitreous, a gel-like fluid that fills the back of our eyes. However, if they come on suddenly, it could signify a detached retina.
Macular Degeneration - The macula is at the center of the retina. It is responsible for our straight-ahead vision and most of our color vision. Macular degeneration damages the macula; it can cause blurred or wavy vision and eventually central vision loss. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss among people aged 50 and older. There is no cure, but you can slow the progression.
Detached retina - A detached retina is considered an emergency situation. It happens when the retina peels away or detaches from its underlying layer of support tissue at the back of the eye. The most common symptoms are the sudden appearance of floaters, flashes, and reduced vision. If untreated, it will result in permanent vision loss in the affected eye.
Trichiasis - This is a common age-related problem resulting from abnormal eyelash growth where the lashes are misdirected and grow inward toward the eye. This causes the lashes to rub against the eye's cornea or conjunctiva, creating irritation. Trauma or an eye infection can be the cause. The eye doctor will manually remove the lashes.
See Your Eye Doctor
Good eye health starts with seeing your eye doctor regularly. Remember, there are differences between eye doctors.
Optometrists provide basic vision care and offer examinations, diagnoses, and vision correction for eye conditions.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors that specialize in eye health, vision correction, and surgical procedures for your eyes and vision. They treat more advanced eye health issues.
Vision Impairment and Long-Term Care
It is important to note that visual problems have also been linked to decreases in cognitive function. For anyone, as we get older, this is a significant concern.
Vision, aging, and caregiving are often linked. Overall good vision is coupled with our overall quality of life. Good vision is tied to our ability to enjoy social activities with friends and family. Social interaction can also benefit our cognitive ability and even slow down dementia.
Older adults with vision problems are also twice as likely to suffer falls that can lead to severe injuries, such as broken hips, and are a significant reason people need to go to the emergency room or a nursing home.
Due to the challenges that vision impairment imposes on older adults, they become less likely to remain independent. The greater the vision problem, the more likely an individual may need to be cared for in an assisted living or nursing home.
For older people who are still independent, ensuring they remain proactive with their vision health is essential.
About the Author
Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.
Contributor since September 25th, 2020
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