Almost everyone will require cataract surgery at some point in their life. In a healthy clear eye, we have a natural lens that refracts light which comes into the eye to help us see. With cataracts, the eye lens becomes cloudy which makes things appear blurry. Street signs and small print become difficult to read and it is challenging to drive at night due to eye sensitivity from reflective glare.

Cataracts can appear when a person is in their 40’s or 50’s but may not affect their vision until after 60. Cataracts may also be due to eye trauma, diabetes, corticosteroid medication or radiation treatment. In some cases, the effects may be so mild that vision is barely affected, but in other cases, it can be extremely debilitating, where the individual cannot see shapes or movements, only light and dark. Rarely, cataracts appear in infants and may occur as a result of an infection that happened during pregnancy.

Cataracts are the world's leading cause of blindness. In North America, cataracts are most often age-related, affecting more than half of Americans over 65. Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light is also known to cause cataracts. People who smoke may get cataracts at an earlier age than non-smokers.

Cataracts can develop quite slowly, usually causing a gradual and painless loss of vision. Some tell-tale signs of cataract development are blurry vision, glare (especially at night), frequent changes of eyeglass prescription, a yellowing of images and in some rare cases, double vision.

Cataract surgery improves eyesight significantly in 95% of cases and is a safe, effective surgical procedure.

Traditional Cataract surgery
In traditional cataract surgery, the cloudy lens inside the eye is removed and replaced with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL) to restore clear vision. With modern cataract surgery techniques, double eye surgery can be completed the same day, the same week or for a period of time between each eye surgery. Patients also have the option to choose near or farsighted lenses. There are several types of lenses available depending on the eye problem.

Traditional cataract surgery takes 15 minutes and the typical result is long-lasting clear vision. Most modern cataract procedures use a high-frequency ultrasound device that breaks up the cloudy lens into small pieces which are gently removed from the eye with suction. After all remnants of the cloudy lens have been removed, the cataract surgeon inserts a clear IOL lens, positioning it securely behind the iris and pupil, the same place your natural lens occupied. The surgeon then completes the cataract removal and lens implantation by closing the incision in your eye (a stitch may be needed). A protective plastic shield is placed over the eye to keep it safe the first day of surgery and is worn at night for one week. The surgeon will recommend eye drops to be used for one month. This surgery is performed on an outpatient basis and does not require a hospital stay. Recovery takes about one month.

Cataract surgery may be performed in a hospital environment; basics are covered by Medicare. One may opt to pay for surgery at a private clinic because waiting time for surgery at a hospital may be lengthy.

Laser Surgery
The new laser option produces a perfectly round cut of the desired size, centered over the capsular bag. This method uses less energy to fragment the cataract than the ultrasound in traditional surgery. Both eyes can be done the same day. Advantages are one trip for both surgeries, one appointment requiring someone to accompany you and post-operative follow-up to be completed at the same time. Postoperative results are excellent, but laser surgery is more costly.

If you notice that your vision is blurry, it is best to see to see your eye specialist, as cataract cloudiness will worsen with time.