Just 60 years ago, cataract surgery meant a long, post-operative stay in the hospital with sandbags immobilizing your head until you were healed. Now, it is an out-patient procedure.
The word cataract means waterfall or down rushing. For people who have cataracts, seeing through cloudy lenses is like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. Clouded vision caused by cataracts can make it difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night) or see the expression on a friend’s face.
Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t disturb your eyesight early on. But with time, cataracts will eventually interfere with your vision. At first, stronger lighting and eyeglasses can help you deal with cataracts. But if impaired vision interferes with your usual activities, you might need cataract surgery. Fortunately, cataract surgery is generally a safe and effective procedure.
Cataract operations used to consist of removing the cloudy lenses and providing the patient with thick glasses, which did not allow for peripheral vision. Now, ophthalmologists (eye surgeons) replace the cloudy lens with a plastic lens, and vision–including peripheral vision–is often clearly restored.
Here is Linda’s experience:
On a weekday afternoon, her husband drove her to an eye surgery center in Stoneham. A group of ten cataract patients sat in a room, and an anesthesiologist explained what would happen. Before the procedure, each patient would receive a dose of local anesthetic for the eye as well as a mild sedative, which would be administered with an IV. Only one eye is done at a time. This way, if a rare complication ensues, such as infection, the other eye will not be compromised.
She was eventually ushered into the surgical area. There, a hospital gown was put over her street clothes, she was administered her anesthetic and sedative and she lay on a table with her head and body firmly held in place. She was awake during the twenty-minute operation, but she was groggy and did not feel anything because of the medications administered before. She also did not see anything, because there was a bright light shining into her face.
She was home with an eye patch by 5:30 that evening. Later that night, the doctor called her and inquired as to how she was doing. He told her to take off the eye patch and use the prescribed eyedrops four times a day starting the next morning.
The next morning, she said, “I could see better than ever before.”
She used the drops for five weeks. The other eye was operated on six weeks after her first procedure.
Most cataracts develop naturally as you age. Other common causes include previous injuries to the eye, certain illnesses (such as diabetes and high blood pressure) and long-term use of certain medications (such as steroids). Prolonged sun or UV light exposure can also lead to an increased risk of developing cataracts. You can protect your eyes from UV rays by limiting direct sun exposure through the use of brimmed hats and sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.
In most cases, MassHealth covers cataract surgery and lens implants.