DEAR DOCTOR K: I have cataracts. What are my treatment options?
DEAR READER: “Cataract” means “huge waterfall.” And that’s how some people with cataracts describe their clouded sight – like trying to look through a waterfall.
A healthy lens is clear, so that light can pass through it without being distorted. Cataracts are cloudy areas in the lens. At first, you don’t notice them because they don’t affect your vision. Over time, however, the cloudy areas gradually get larger and interfere with vision. They distort or block the passage of light through the lens.
Cataracts are a long-term problem, and in most patients, vision gets worse over time. The only way to cure cataracts is to remove the clouded lenses and replace them with a clear plastic lens.
There are two surgical options for taking out the cloudy lenses. The first is called extracapsular cataract extraction. In this procedure, most of the cataract may be removed manually. Or, sound waves may be used to break the clouded lens into tiny pieces, which are then vacuumed out. The capsule surrounding the lens is left intact.
In the other surgical procedure, known as intracapsular cataract extraction, both the lens and the lens capsule are removed.
Once the cloudy lens is out, you can have a clear plastic lens placed in the eye, or you can wear a contact lens or special cataract glasses with very powerful magnification.
Cataract surgery improves vision in the vast majority of patients who have it. In some people who have extracapsular surgery, part of the lens capsule may eventually become cloudy. This can be corrected with laser surgery.
You cannot prevent age-related cataracts. But you can lower your risk by limiting your time in the bright sun, not smoking and controlling your blood sugar if you have diabetes.