Cataracts affect millions of Canadians. When cataracts are discovered during a comprehensive eye exam, your optometrist may recommend surgery to avoid significant or total vision loss. But once the surgery is done, is that it?
Cataract surgery completely removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with an artificial lens, which means your cataracts can’t return after surgery, but a condition called secondary cataracts can cause similar symptoms after surgery. There’s always more to know about cataracts and cataract surgery.
What Are Cataracts?
Cataracts are an eye condition where the lens inside your eye becomes cloudy. The formation of cataracts is a normal part of aging, and most often affects people over 60. It happens when the proteins within your eye’s lens break down slowly over time, causing cloudiness. Because your lenses are vital for focusing light, this clouding can severely affect your vision.
While cataracts can affect everyone, some factors can increase the severity of cataracts, or cause them, including:
- Trauma to the eye
- UV damage
- Autoimmune disease
- Some medications
- Being born with cataracts (congenital cataracts)
Not all cataracts are the same. The different types include nuclear cataracts, cortical cataracts, and posterior subcapsular cataracts.
Nuclear cataracts can affect the centre of your lens, progressing slowly and typically affecting near vision first. When affected by nuclear cataracts, your lens may turn more yellow and even become brown.
Cortical cataracts typically start at the edges of your lens as whitish, wedge-shaped streaks. As they progress, these opacities can extend into the centre of your lens and interfere with light.
Posterior subcapsular cataracts typically start at the back of your lens and look like a small, opaque area. This type of cataract can progress quickly and cause noticeable changes to your reading vision and vision in bright light, such as by causing glares or halos around lights.
Some common symptoms of cataracts include:
- Blurred or cloudy vision, as if a film is covering your eye
- Double vision
- Increased sensitivity to glares
- Faded colour vision
- Halos or ghost images
- Difficulty seeing at night, such as while driving or reading
What Is Cataract Surgery?
Cataract surgery is a common procedure that involves removing the cloudy lens from your eye and replacing it with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). The surgery can be performed as an outpatient procedure or at a hospital, depending on what your eye doctor recommends. However, most patients can return home the same day.
You’ll need to prepare for the surgery by maintaining good eye health, such as by keeping your eyelids clean or undergoing dry eye treatments. You may also need to fast before the surgery. Your optometrist can answer your questions about the procedure and help you prepare.
Your eye doctor will measure your eye before the surgery date and pick the ideal lens for you. Then, on the day, your surgeon will use numbing drops before removing and replacing your natural lens with the artificial lens.
Once your new IOL is inserted, you’ll need to protect your eye from injury while it heals. Still, after spending some time in the recovery area, you’re typically free to have someone drive you home.
What Are Secondary Cataracts?
Because your surgeon will thoroughly remove the affected lens, your cataracts can’t return after surgery. There’s simply no natural lens with any proteins to break down into cataracts. However, posterior capsular opacification is a complication that can develop after surgery. It’s sometimes called a “secondary cataract” because it shares many symptoms with the original condition.
Posterior capsular opacification happens when cells left behind by your natural lens attach to your IOL and start growing around it. This can develop months or years after your surgery and can feel like your cataracts have returned. It’s a relatively common side effect of cataract surgery that can affect many people.
Fortunately, once secondary cataracts are diagnosed, your eye doctor can treat them. One common treatment involves using a laser to make tiny holes in your lens capsule that let light pass through again.
Reducing Your Risk of Cataracts
Cataracts are a part of aging, and there are no immediate cures that simply stop cataracts from happening. However, some research suggests there are steps you can take that may slow cataract development, including:
- Wearing sunglasses with UV protection
- Eating foods with antioxidants, such as berries, beans, pecans, and leafy greens
- Balancing your blood sugar levels
- Quitting smoking
Is Cataract Surgery Right for You?
Cataracts can develop slowly, and before you know it, your vision isn’t what it used to be. That’s why we’re happy to walk you through the cataract surgery process to help you feel comfortable about making a decision.