Learn the facts about one of the most common sight-threatening conditions for African American older adults
Local Eye MDs Advise: Don’t let cataracts cloud your vision
African Americans have nearly twice the risk of developing cataracts than Caucasians. This difference may be due to other medical illnesses, particularly diabetes. African- Americans are also much more likely to become blind from cataracts and glaucoma than Caucasians, mostly due to lack of treatment. Despite this threat, most people don’t know the facts about cataracts until they are “eyeto- eye” with one. Don’t let poor vision cloud your future. Educate yourself now about the signs and treatment for cataracts.
• What exactly is a cataract?
“A cataract is the clouding of the natural lens located inside the eye behind the pupil,” states Dr. Brett Rhode, Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. “This lens works like a camera lens—focusing light onto the retina at the back of the eye to form the images you see. As you age, changes can cause clouding of this lens. This clouding is called a ‘cataract.’ As the clouding advances, or cataract ‘ripens,’ it can blur and glare vision to the point of inhibiting day-today functioning. Depending on the type of cataract, the clouding may take years or just months to progress.”
• What causes a cataract?
Cataracts are most commonly caused by the aging process (six out of 10 people over age 60 have some form). This clouding may also occur due to heredity, injury, disease (such as diabetes), medications (steroids/cortisone), birth defects, and long-term, unprotected sunlight exposure.
• How do you treat a cataract?
“There are no drugs, drops, glasses or exercises that will prevent or cure cataracts,” says Dr. Daniel Ferguson, a partner at Eye Care Specialists, one of the state’s leading ophthalmology practices. “The only effective treatment is to make an opening in the eye, surgically remove the cloudy lens (cataract), and replace it with an intraocular lens implant (IOL) to once again focus light rays onto the retina,” adds Ferguson, who, along with his partners, uses high-frequency ultrasound to gently break up and vacuum out cataracts through a tiny incision.
• Intraocular Lens Implants (IOLs)
IOLs not only provide sharper vision, but often improve sight to levels not seen in years. Local ophthalmologist and Harvard graduate Dr. Daniel Paskowitz explains, “Standard IOLs are monofocal, acting like miniature internal contact lenses set for a single strength or prescription power—usually to provide clear vision in the distance for driving, watching TV, and other tasks. Most patients with these lenses still need reading glasses or bifocals. Newer ‘premium’ IOLs are designed to provide multiple focusing zones for a fuller range of vision near and far with little or no dependence on glasses. Your surgeon will help you determine which type of IOL is best for your eye, health, lifestyle and budget.”
• When should you have surgery?
Dr. Mark Freedman, an ophthalmologist with thousands of cases under his surgical cap advises, “It’s not necessary to wait to remove a cataract until it’s so ripe that almost all vision is blocked. In fact, if you wait too long, it can grow so dense that the operation becomes riskier and more difficult. I tell patients that if the cataract is preventing you from doing tasks, new glasses won’t improve clarity, and no other conditions exist which would negate the benefits of removal (like severe macular degeneration), then it’s time for surgery.”
• Why do people hesitate?
An eye surgeon who sees patients at Milwaukee, West Allis and Mayfair area locations, Dr. Michael Raciti observes, “Some people delay surgery because they think it’s unaffordable. They don’t realize it’s covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most insurances.” Raciti adds, “Others think they are too old or that poor vision is just a fact of life that comes with age. We want everyone to know that vision loss from cataracts is usually reversible, and with today’s advanced techniques and equipment, cataract removal is one of the safest outpatient operations—even for the very elderly.
• What happens before surgery?
“Once a patient decides to proceed, we put our years of experience to use in planning for the best possible outcome,” explains Rhode. “We enter information regarding the length of the eye and curvature of the cornea into a special computer that calculates the power of IOL which would best restore vision to pre-cataract levels. We then customize the type of implant and surgical technique to fit the patient’s needs—taking into consideration overall health, any diabetic or retinal problems, lifestyle, and other factors. We never lose sight of the fact that even though we’ve performed tens of thousands of cataract procedures, each patient is unique.”
• What happens after surgery?
After surgery, patients go home and resume almost all activities within hours, and vision noticeably improves within days. “Most people are so pleased with seeing things brighter and clearer, that they can’t wait to have their other eye done,” notes Dr. David Scheidt, past president of the Milwaukee Optometric Society.
Take the test. Ask yourself:
• Do you have trouble seeing, even with your glasses or contact lenses (and prescription changes don’t help)?
• Do you have foggy, blurred or double vision?
• Do you need more light to read or see?
• Are you uncomfortable going out at night because of poor vision?
• Do lights at night have a “starburst” or “halo” effect?
• Do bright lights, sunlight and glare bother you?
• Do you have trouble seeing to read small print or fill out forms and checks?
• Are colors not as bright as they used to be?
• Are you having trouble seeing the digital clock or channel numbers on the TV?
• Do you have problems seeing the food on your plate?
• Are you having difficulty judging stairs and curbs?
• Do you bump into things or fall because of poor sight?
• Do you have difficulty performing daily activities (cooking, cleaning, driving, etc.) or enjoying hobbies (watching TV, sewing, going out with friends, etc.) because of your vision?
• Is your distance vision (seeing the TV, street signs, grocery store aisles, etc.) getting worse?
Answering “yes” to just one of the above questions may mean that you have a cataract. If so, you should schedule a thorough examination, which is typically covered by Medicare and insurance.
(against cataracts and other eye conditions)
• Get regular eye checkups because eye diseases don’t always have symptoms. African-Americans over age 40 should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. If you have diabetes, you need an eye exam at least once a year. Ask your doctor how often you should have your eyes checked.
• Protect your eyes from the sun with sunglasses and a hat.
• Don’t smoke.
• Control your blood pressure.
• Eat healthy foods, including lots of fruits and green leafy vegetables.
REASONS NOT TO DELAY CATARACT TREATMENT
1. Cataract removal with lens implantation has been around for 50+ years and is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in Americans over age 65. The overwhelming majority of patients improve their vision—often to levels they haven’t seen in years.
2. Even just modest visual improvement can improve quality of life (ability to read, write, use the telephone, watch TV, etc.) and reduce psychological distress (worry and frustration). Removing cloudy cataracts and improving vision can also increase the amount of light and color which enters the eye, thus positively impacting cortisol, melatonin, and mood levels.
3. One study showed that people who have their cataracts removed and replaced with implants have half the car accident risk of people who don’t have surgery.
4. You’ll decrease your risk of falling and hip fractures. Of the nearly 1,000 hip fractures that occur in the U.S., many are due to visual impairment (often from cataracts).
5. Medicare covers 80% of the allowable cost of cataract surgery and supplemental insurance covers a majority (or sometimes all) of the remaining cost.
6. There’s minimal surgical and recovery time. Eye Care Specialists uses the latest technology, including ultrasonic cataract removal, so that the operation itself takes only 10-20 minutes. Afterward, patients go home and can resume most all normal activities within hours, and vision noticeably improves within days.
FREE BOOKLETS & INFORMATION
Eye Care Specialists’ doctors are dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and macular degeneration. They frequently lecture to the public and fellow physicians and have written their own series of booklets on these conditions. Call 414-321-7035 for FREE copies or to schedule an appointment for a thorough eye screening (usually covered by insurance or Medicare) at their offices on 7th & Wisconsin Avenue, Mayfair Road across from the mall, or 102nd & National Ave. They also offer information at www.eyecarespecialists.net.