If you live long enough, you will probably develop one. In fact, six out of 10 people over age 60, and almost everyone over age 80 has one. Has what? A cataract. Despite this prevalence, most people don’t know the facts about cataracts until they come “eye-toeye” with one. Don’t let poor vision cloud your future. Educate yourself 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 is made mostly of water and protein and 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, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud an area of the lens. This 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.
- How do you treat a cataract?
“There are no drugs, drops, glasses or exercises that will prevent or cure cataracts,” says Dr. Norman Cohen, cofounder of 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 Cohen, the first Wisconsin eye surgeon to use 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. 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. Daniel Ferguson observes, “Some people delay surgery because they think it’s unaffordable. They don’t realize it’s covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most insurances.” He 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 Dr. Robert Sucher, a state leader in cataract surgery techniques and technology. “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 Rhode.
Patient overcomes hesitation to “see” benefits of surgery
Audrey Hoese (pronounced “Hayes”), 80, is one of those people you can’t help but strike up a friendly conversation with. She fills her days volunteering for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department serving senior meal program lunches and helping out with community events like “Breakfast with Santa.”
While volunteering at a recent Greenfield City Hall Health Fair, Hoese wasn’t shy about directing attendees to Eye Care Specialists’ information booth. “I tell everyone, if they need an eye doctor, they should go see the doctors there. They are wonderful—I can’t say enough. I must know at least 10 people who have been there, and they are all so happy.”
Hoese’s reason for referring began when her optometrist suggested she see Dr. Robert Sucher, co-founder of Eye Care Specialists, for a cataract evaluation. Hoese had worn glasses for distance vision and astigmatism since age 20, but was starting to have trouble with glare and driving at night.
Upon being diagnosed with a cataract, Hoese was hesitant to pursue treatment. She recalls, “Dr. Sucher was very understanding and told me to take a year or so to consider it. I knew a few people who had cataract surgery, and I wasn’t afraid, I just had to get used to the idea. But, after a year, it was getting more difficult to drive at night, and I was ready.”
Six days after proudly walking her granddaughter down the aisle for her wedding (she had lost both parents), Hoese had her first cataract removed. Three weeks later, she had her second eye done. “It was the best surgery I ever had! I had no complications and no pain whatsoever. I felt fine by the time I went home from surgery, and I was surprised at how easy it was. If I had known, I would have done it sooner!”
Post-surgery, Hoese has an even better reason to be thrilled. After a lifetime of needing glasses to drive and do most tasks, Hoese now only wears a light prescription for reading and to correct for a slight astigmatism. The former frequent cruise-goer (23 in 10 years) and Rec Department group traveler enjoys her new-found freedom to see the sights. She happily exclaims, “I am able to drive and take my walks without glasses—it’s wonderful!”
6 Reasons Not to Delay Cataract Surgery
- 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,” notes Norman Cohen, MD.
- Improving vision can impact quality of life. One study found that even with only modest levels of visual improvement, participants could read, write, use the telephone, watch TV, and play cards better. They also reported less psychological distress (such as worry and frustration). “Removing a cloudy cataract and improving vision can also increase the amount of light and color which enters the eye, thus positively impacting cortisol, melatonin, and mood levels,” states Robert Sucher, MD.
- “A recent 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,” cites Dr. Daniel Ferguson.
- “You’ll decrease your risk of falling by up to 78%, according to one study,” reports Dr. Mark Freedman. Of the nearly 1,000 hip fractures that occur in the U.S. each day, 18% are caused by visual impairment (oftentimes due to cataracts).
- Medicare covers 80% of the allowable cost of cataract surgery. If you have supplemental insurance, a majority (and perhaps all) of the remaining cost is usually covered as well.
- There’s minimal surgical and recovery time. “Our practice utilizes the latest technology, including ultrasonic cataract removal, so that the operation itself takes only 10-20 minutes. After surgery, patients go home and can resume most all normal activities within hours, and vision noticeably improves within days,” Dr. Brett Rhode explains.
Poor vision is not a fact of life. Schedule an eye exam if you notice:
- Foggy, fuzzy, blurred or double vision
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- “Starbursts” around lights
- Difficulty driving at night
- Holding items closer to view
- Needing brighter light to read
- Fading or yellowing of colors
- Lens prescription changes that don’t help
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. They also offer information at www.eyecarespecialists.net.