The National Eye Institute (NEI) predicts that by the year 2050, 50.2 million Americans will develop cataracts. But don’t worry. Cataracts are a normal part of the aging process, currently affecting more than 22 million Americans age 40 and older, and half of all Americans over the age of 80, according to NEI. In a healthy eye, the lens focuses “light onto the retina for clear vision” and “adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away,” explains Gretchyn Bailey, editor in chief of Optometry Times. Over time, proteins begin to build up in the lens, forming protein clumps, which can obscure normal vision. These clumps, or deposits, prevent light from passing clearly through the lens, causing images to appear cloudy or blurry, especially at night.
“I like to compare it to the clear plastic window in the back of a convertible car,” says board certified ophthalmologist Samuel Boles, M.D., Medical Director of the Anne Arundel Eye Center. “After years of exposure to sun and weather, the plastic becomes yellow and cloudy.”
When a cataract has progressed to the point that it is interfering with normal, everyday functions, such as driving or reading, surgery is often the recommended course of action. Fortunately, “cataract surgery is one of the safest and most effective types of surgery performed in the United States today,” according to NEI. The surgery involves removing the lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens – an intraocular lense (IOL) implant. Under local anesthesia, a small incision is made on the edge of the cornea and high frequency ultrasound vibrations gently dissolve the natural lens into small pieces. These fragments are removed and replaced with the IOL. The thin, posterior layers of the lens, called the lens capsule, is left behind.
Today, more than a million IOLs are implanted every year in the United States alone. But what happens after surgery?
Cataract Surgery Post-Op Care
Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed operation in the United States, with a 98 percent success rate, the highest of any surgery practiced today. Recovery should be short and uneventful.
Following cataract surgery, patients typically stay in the doctor’s office for roughly an hour to monitor eye pressure and ensure there are no unexpected/rare complications. If all is well, they are released to a friend or family member. At this point, it is not safe for the patient to drive.
Over the next several days, the vision will begin to improve. Some patients can even see very well the following day, but each person heals differently. Some patients need a full month to reach maximum vision improvement. But approximately 90 percent of all cataract surgery patients report better vision following the surgery. Colors often appear brighter and more vibrant. It is common to feel itching and mild discomfort for a couple of days after surgery. This is completely normal. These sensations should subside as your eye heals, but you should avoid rubbing the eye in the meantime. Even a small amount of pressure can easily open the incision. Because of this, the doctor may ask you to wear an eye patch or protective shield for a few days after surgery and when you sleep during the recovery period. It is also recommended that the patient:
- Refrain from bending with the head below the waist.
- Refrain from lifting more than 10 pounds.
- Refrain from straining to the point of holding one’s breath (on the toilet, for example).
All of these activities increase the pressure inside the eye and can open the incision. The doctor may also prescribe eye drops or other medication to control eye pressure, prevent infection, and reduce inflammation. Oral pain relievers such as acetaminophen may also be prescribed, if needed. Typically, however, you should feel only slight discomfort.
A day or two following surgery, it is back to the doctor’s office for a follow-up exam. Then again the following week and a month later to monitor your progress. Often, complete healing occurs within eight weeks. For the best possible recovery, follow your doctor’s detailed instructions.
During your recovery period, you should contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Vision loss
- Pain that persists despite the use of over-the-counter pain medications
- Increased eye redness
- Light flashes or multiple new spots (floaters) in front of your eye
“We should all be so lucky to develop cataracts in our lifetime, as this would mean we have lived a long and healthy life,” says Dr. Boles.
Cataract Pre- and Post-Op Care with Anne Arundel Eye Center
The Anne Arundel Eye Center (AAEC) is a regional leader in the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma and cataracts. A consultation with board certified ophthalmologist Dr. Boles will guide you through the treatment process and help you determine the best course of action.
Dr. Boles utilizes the LenSx® Laser, the most technologically advanced option for cataract patients today, to create a cataract surgery that’s 100% unique to each patient.
Staffed by caring and knowledgeable professionals, AAEC’s state-of-the-art treatment center is dedicated to making the best eye care accessible to everyone.
If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Samuel Boles, Dr. Nicole Kershner Regis, Dr. Kathryn Turner, and the eye care specialists here at AAEC by calling 410-224-2010. AAEC is staffed by caring and knowledgeable professionals who will help guide you on your healing journey.