Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s lens. Because they block light from passing through the lens, cataracts make it difficult to see clearly and can even cause blindness over time. Cataracts are progressive, meaning they worsen with time. Although cataracts are more common in older adults, people in their 30s, 40s, or even younger can also develop cataracts. Some cataracts are associated with injuries, medications, inflammation, and certain systemic diseases such as diabetes.
For most of our lives, our eyes provide us with good vision, though many of us may require glasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery to sharpen that vision. Cataracts are far and away the most common treatable cause of poor vision. To better understand what a cataract is, it is helpful to know about the eye and how it works.
The eye is a very complex structure that is closely related to the structures of the brain. To put it simply, the eye is like a camera. Light enters through the clear front of the eye (the cornea); passes through the pupil (the opening in the center of the iris, or colored portion of the eye); and is focused by the lens, which lies behind the pupil and the iris, onto the retina. The pupil is similar to the aperture or opening of a camera. It gets larger or smaller depending on how much light the eye is exposed to. The normally clear lens of the eye is like the lens of a camera in that it focuses light to provide clear, distinct detail. In the back of the eye is the retina, which is like the film or sensor in a camera. It receives the light, but instead of storing it to be developed into a photograph, it transmits the light to the brain through the optic nerve. If the retina is in good condition, the picture will be clear; if the retina is damaged or has aged considerably, the picture may not be so clear.
The lens is normally clear and surrounded by a special capsule that holds it in place and helps it change shape to focus each image. When this lens becomes cloudy, a cataract is present. The entire lens does not need to be cloudy for the problem to be termed a cataract. A cataract can consist of cloudiness or opacity anywhere in the lens.
Most cataracts are a natural part of the aging process and are found to some degree in up to 65 percent of people in their 60s and in over 80 percent of people older than 70 years of age. In one recent large study, 15 percent of people 52 to 85 years of age had cataracts that reduced their visual acuity to below normal. It is estimated that 5 million to 10 million people throughout the world become visually disabled each year because of cataracts. In this country alone, some 1 million cataract operations are performed each year. Patients who refuse cataract surgery constitute the second largest group of blind persons in the United States.
Some cataracts advance rapidly and impair vision in a matter of months, while others progress slowly and take years before they cause any significant problems. A cataract may be present in only one eye, or, if present in both eyes, the cataracts may worsen at different rates. Those that develop on the back or center of the lens are the ones that are usually responsible for vision being blurrier in bright sunlight rather than in dim light.
Cataracts can be responsible for glare, haziness, difficulty in reading or driving, and halos around lights at night. If a cataract is more developed in one eye than in the other, the patient may experience a loss of depth perception. Only when a cataract is in an extremely advanced stage does it produce pain, discomfort, or red eyes, a point at which cataract surgery is highly recommended.
Many prospective patients have questions about cataracts. Here are the answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions regarding the condition and its treatment.
Cataracts are a cloudiness that develops on the natural lens of the eye when we age, causing vision to become blurred. When cataracts progress to a certain point, traditional contacts and glasses can’t correct your vision and surgery is needed to replace your eye’s natural lens with a synthetic intraocular lens. Cataracts can form in the center of the lens, at the cortex or outer lens covering, or at the back of the lens.
Yes. As you age, the lens of your eye ages as well, growing thicker each year and eventually becoming cloudy, forming a cataract.
Cataracts slowly develop with age and are painless. They often go unnoticed until a doctor discovers them during an eye exam. Symptoms include blurry vision with colors that seem dim or faded with a yellow or brown tint, bright light sensitivity, halos that appear when looking at lights, heightened sensitivity to bright lights and glare, changes in vision that cannot be corrected by a change in eyeglass or contact lens prescription, and poor night vision.
Cataract surgery has improved and advanced dramatically during the last several decades. Many patients recall how frightened their parents or grandparents were at the thought of having cataract operations. Not only were they in the hospital for several weeks, but recovery was usually painful. Patients had to lie still for several weeks and remain inactive for many months. Furthermore, their vision was not fully recovered until they had been fitted with thick, heavy cataract glasses. Often, after the first eye was operated on, the visual symptoms became worse due to the confusion of the vision between the eye seeing through a thick cataract lens on the operated side and the eye seeing through a regular, thin lens on the other side. This situation often required them to cover one eye or the other to prevent double vision.
With today’s modern surgical techniques and scientific advances in technology, cataract surgery has become practically painless, is much easier on the patient, and provides better vision. The operation can be performed on an outpatient basis most of the time and usually requires no stitches.
Either local anesthesia (a painless injection beneath and behind the eye) or, as usually happens, topical anesthetic eye drops are used. After talking with the patient and the patient’s family, the ophthalmologist will choose the type of anesthesia that will make the patient most comfortable before, during, and after the cataract surgery. For the majority of patients, the simplest and easiest solution is topical anesthetic drops. In all cases, a specialist in anesthesia monitors the patient for safety throughout the cataract surgery.
Modern cataract surgery has been made possible by the operating microscope. This high-powered microscope allows the surgeon to see better to remove the cataract and implant the IOL into the eye. In addition to using the operating microscope, the modern cataract surgeon uses an extracapsular surgical technique. This means that the surgeon removes the lens contents but leaves the back portion of the natural lens capsule in place. Although this technique is much more difﬁcult for many surgeons to perform, it provides the patient with many beneﬁts.
The old cloudy lens can be removed by several different techniques. The technique chosen depends on the type of cataract and other factors about the patient. The whole lens can be removed (intracapsular technique) or only the cloudy central portion can be removed (extracapsular technique). Another extracapsular technique is phacoemulsiﬁcation, where a tiny ultrasonic, vibrating instrument is placed into the cataract to break it up into fragments that are liqueﬁed and suctioned out through a small incision in the eye. This is sometimes mistakenly called the ‘laser technique’, but that is not an accurate description. Phacoemulsiﬁcation (ultrasonic) cataract removal with intraocular lens implantation gives excellent visual results, but the ophthalmologist must weigh all factors before he or she can tell their patient which technique will be best for them. We personally favor performing phacoemulsiﬁcation because it allows for a smaller incision and usually no stitches. The patient feels relatively comfortable during the operation and the actual procedure usually takes approximately 12 minutes or less.
With outpatient cataract surgery, it is possible to resume most normal activities the following day. Follow-up visits to the eye doctor over the next six to eight weeks are extremely important. In many cases, vision can be restored to normal levels long before the end of that time, but the healing process, regardless of the technique, will take about four to six weeks. Observation and counseling of the patient during the postoperative visits are critical.
Three kinds of substitutes for the natural lens of the eye are currently available. Each of these three substitutes for the natural lens has certain advantages and disadvantages.
1. Spectacles (thick cataract glasses)
Cataract glasses are the oldest and most conservative way to restore sight after cataract surgery. Usually, these glasses can only be used comfortably after a patient has had the cataract removed from each eye. Cataract spectacles have several drawbacks: they are extremely thick and heavy, they make objects appear about one-third larger than they really are, they make straight objects seem curved and distort side vision, and they can be difﬁcult to get used to and some people never adjust to them. They can also cause difﬁculties when the wearer is going up or down stairs. No one really requests this method of correction and surgeons have abandoned this old method.
2. Contact lenses
A contact lens is a small thin lens that rides on a layer of tears on the eye’s surface. Several kinds of contact lenses are now available – hard, soft, and extended-wear soft contact lenses. However, many older patients are unable to wear contact lenses because of discomfort and irritation in addition to insertion and removal problems.
3. Intraocular lens implants (IOLs)
The third kind of man-made substitute for the eye’s natural lens is the intraocular lens (IOL). This is a tiny synthetic lens made of plastic, silicone, or acrylic that is permanently inserted into the eye and will last indeﬁnitely. Since this lens is placed in about the same place the cloudy natural lens had been, the restored vision is more natural. Side vision and image size are normal and there is no discomfort. There is no foreign body to irritate the surface of the eye.
IOL implants have been performed in increasing numbers over the last 35 years. Older lens types and techniques were not uniformly successful, but with modern, high-quality IOLs and highly sophisticated surgical techniques, most patients can achieve excellent vision. Almost all patients now receive an implant at the time of their cataract surgery. The most recent IOL advancements are multifocal or pseudo-accommodative lenses that allow patients to see close up and in the distance. Technology continues to improve implants and there will be changes and improvements yet to come.
We do not yet know exactly what causes the cataracts associated with aging, but we can summarize many things that we do know about them:
Hoopes Vision is proud to offer the safest, most effective laser vision correction procedures available: Cataract Surgery and Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery. Our cataract specialists are among the most experienced in the country with these state-of-the-art procedures.
Hoopes Vision is among the earliest adopters of a new advancement in cataract treatment: laser-assisted cataract surgery. This new treatment automates the first steps in the cataract surgery procedure: the initial incisions (including additional incisions for correcting astigmatism, if necessary) and capsulotomy; and phacoemulsification, which is the breaking up of the cloudy natural lens in preparation for removal. These steps, performed with hand-held blades and ultrasound probes in the traditional procedure, are performed by a fast, extremely accurate, computer-guided laser. This leads to improved precision, which can be consistent with better surgical outcomes for patients.Learn More
Intraocular lenses – also referred to as IOLs – are implantable lenses that take the place of the natural crystalline lens after it has been removed during cataract surgery. The first IOLs were monofocal and thus able to correct sight for only one type of vision (far, immediate, or near) at a time.
The standard intraocular lens (IOL) is designed to give good distance vision to patients who do not have significant astigmatism. Patients who receive standard IOLs are usually able to drive, go to movies, and perform other activities requiring long vision without corrective lenses, but often require reading glasses for such close work as reading or using a computer.Learn More
Modern cataract patients often have the option of a premium multifocal IOL rather than a standard IOL. The multifocal IOL features concentric rings of increasing refractive power. For patients who are good candidates for these IOLs, it can lead to excellent vision at a variety of distances with the need for reading glasses reduced or eliminated entirely.Learn More
Toric IOLs are used to correct astigmatism. In patients with moderate to severe astigmatism, they can help greatly to reduce or eliminate dependence on eyeglasses or contacts postoperatively. A toric IOL, like a toric eyeglass or contact lens, has additional refractive power located along one axis. When properly placed by a skilled cataract specialist, this additional power corrects the patient’s astigmatism.Learn More
Our team of cataract specialists is among the most experienced in Utah. More importantly, they are among the most experienced in the country at the highest levels of cataract surgery technology: multifocal implants and laser-assisted procedures.Meet the Doctors
EyeSurg of Utah is our on-site, state-certified, Medicare-approved, ambulatory surgery center. From the start, it was designed to optimize cataract and other vision correction procedures, and its nursing and technician staff are all specialized for eye care. It offers advantages in speed and efficiency over a hospital or general surgery center, as well as reduced risk of infection.Tour our Facility
Hoopes Vision specializes in laser-assisted cataract surgery, the most revolutionary development in cataract treatment in decades. Hoopes Vision was the first cataract surgery practice in the world to offer multiple cataract laser systems: the Alcon LenSx and the Optimedica Catalys. After an extensive head-to-head comparison of the patient outcomes from the two systems, our surgeons now use the Catalys Precision Laser System exclusively. Our on-site ambulatory surgery center, EyeSurg of Utah, was designed with laser cataract surgery in mind and features a purpose-built laser room.Learn More
While our goal is to provide the safest, most advanced cataract procedures possible, we are also very proud of how affordable our care is. We work with almost all major insurance companies and any upgrades not covered by insurance are often eligible for no-interest payment plans.Learn More
In order to help patients and prospective patients better understand these lens implant procedures, the surgeons of Hoopes Vision have written a book, Cataract, Lasers, and Refractive Lens Implants: A Guide for Patients and Their Families. It is available for free download here, or if you would like a paper copy, please feel free to contact us.Download Now
If you have been diagnosed with cataracts, or report any of the symptoms associated with cataracts, please contact us. We would be happy to give you an examination and VIP consultation to determine your treatment options. This visit is usually covered by medical insurances, including Medicare.Contact Us
“I had been diagnosed with cataracts several years ago but could still see well enough to function and do most things I needed to do. It wasn’t until late summer that I began to notice quite a bit of glare at night while driving and poor distance vision during the day. Over the years I certainly had a lot of opportunity and time to think about needing surgery on my eyes eventually and began thinking about where to go and which surgeons I wanted to fix my eyes when the time came.
“After talking to friends and associates about where to go, several leading and well-known facilities and surgeons kept coming up. I have known many colleagues in the radio and television industry who have had and needed eye surgery. Through this, I had certainly heard about Hoopes Vision and all of their experience and technology for a long time. I had also been impressed to learn that legendary national newscaster and icon, David Brinkley, had chosen Hoopes Vision for his surgery! But, it wasn’t until I was really having problems that my final decision was made. When speaking with the employees and personnel at my own personal physicians’ office about my recent eye problems, every one of them told me individually that there was only one place I should go to have my cataract surgery: Hoopes Vision. That confirmed what I had felt and heard, and I made the appointment the same day.
“The day of the exam arrived and as I walked off the elevator into the office, I knew I had chosen someplace very special. I don’t think I have ever been in a professional office where warmth, friendliness, and caring were more noticeable and apparent! The office was beautiful and extremely well organized. The staff couldn’t have been nicer or more professional! They radiated confidence and success and you can tell they were happy working there. That is something you rarely see nowadays.
“The workup and exam went efficiently and they went overboard educating me on what was wrong and what my many options were. I was really impressed by the thoroughness and professionalism of Dr. Phillip Hoopes, Jr. He carefully explained what was wrong, what needed to be done and when, and gave me several different options to consider. There was nothing pushy and no pressure; in fact, one of my options was to wait until things got worse. But, I couldn’t wait to have my vision improved and restored.
“The option that sounded best for me was to select one of the newer, high-tech implants that could also correct my astigmatism and give me an opportunity to see well without glasses. On the surgery day, I checked in and was escorted back to the most amazing free-standing surgery center I have ever seen: EyeSurg of Utah. The preoperative preparation was easy, as was the surgery. No needles and no eye patch were needed, just topical anesthetic drops. The surgery took less than 10 minutes and was totally painless. After a brief stay in the postoperative area, I was able to comfortably go home and rest.
“It has now been over a month since my surgery. How can I see? It’s great, with near 20/20 vision in the distance and even better up-close! I can read the newspaper and watch TV without glasses or contacts for the first time in 50 years, and the fog and glare are gone!”
Retired TV News Anchor