Cataracts is one of the most prolific eye diseases in North America, with over 2.5 million Canadians currently living with the condition. It is a natural progression with age, and those over 45 years old are most likely to develop cataracts in one of both eyes.
As they usually develop quite slowly, some patients take a while to realise their vision is actually affected. It does not cause vision loss like age-related macular degeneration, but rather it places a hazy veil over everything we see, muting colours and adding a slight glare to lights.
Anyone can develop cataracts, though it is much more prevalent among older individuals past 50 years old, with a majority of Canadians having developed a cataract by 65.
The special case of a child being born with cataracts in one or both eyes is congenital cataracts. This condition affects between 1 and 15 births in 10,000, and accounts for a substantial number of blindness cases across the world.
As with many eye diseases, the progression of cataracts can be hard to notice, as none of us are expecting them. A developed cataract gives the world the appearance of looking through saran wrap, or an unclean car windshield. If you notice colours desaturating, or start perceiving your surroundings as slightly blurred or cloudy, you should have an exam to look for cataracts.
Cataracts really can affect anyone, however significant research has suggested a few risk factors which may increase your likelihood of developing one:
Cataract removal surgery is by far the most common treatment method. It has one of the highest success rates of any surgery and requires very little time to perform.
The cataract is an opaque layer which forms on the lens of your eyes, obscuring your vision. Surgery is performed to remove this lens entirely, and replace it with a fabricated one, tailored to your eye. This new intraocular lens is immune to further cataracts, and so a successful surgery means no more cataracts, ever.
You will first undergo an eye exam. This is to ensure that your eye health permits the surgery, as some underlying conditions can make you an invalid candidate.
The surgery starts by using special eye drops to enlarge your pupils, before a local anesthetic is applied to numb any pain and keep you comfortable. Targeted, high-frequency ultrasound is then used to gently break up the lens and cataract. The broken lens is removed via suction, before the new intraocular lens is carefully put in place.
The whole procedure should take no more than an hour and a half, with only 15-20 minutes of physical surgery.
You will be given an eye patch straight away, just to protect your eye while it is still dilated. If possible, you shouldn’t drive yourself home as it could be quite uncomfortable. The post-op recovery is usually a few weeks. By this time, your vision will have completely settled and the lens will be unnoticeable.