What is a cataract?
Inside our eyes, we have a natural lens. This lens bends (refracts) light rays that come into the eye to help us see. The lens should be clear; however, if you have a cataract the lens has become cloudy. It is like looking through a foggy or dusty car windshield. Things look blurry, hazy, or less colorful with a cataract.
In a healthy human eye, light rays travel into the eye through the pupil, they pass through the clear lens and focus onto the retina.
In an eye with a cataract, the light rays scatter throughout the eye instead of focusing precisely on the retina, causing distorted vision.
What are the symptoms of a cataract?
Cataracts are the most common reason people start to lose vision. Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. As a result, some patients do not notice changes in their vision right away. However, over time most patients will begin to notice some, or all, of these symptoms:
Though there are other risk factors for cataracts, aging is the most common cause. This is due to normal eye changes that begin around age 40, when proteins in the lens start to break down causing the lens itself to discolor. Not until around age 60 will people usually start to notice some increasing symptoms of their cataract. Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. However, other types of cataracts can develop more quickly, such as those in younger people or those in people with diabetes. Doctors unfortunately cannot always predict how quickly a person’s cataract will develop. Besides age, other cataract risk factors include:
If your cataract symptoms are not very bothersome, you do not have to have surgery right away. A new eyeglass prescription may help you see better for now. However, as your cataract matures even a new prescription will not help. You should consider cataract surgery when your cataracts are making it difficult for you to do things you want or need to do (like reading, watching TV, driving, golfing, etc.). Your doctor will help you decide when the right time is for your cataract surgery.
If you are not ready for cataract surgery, this is what we recommend in the meantime:
When your vision is making it difficult to complete your regular activities, schedule a cataract consultation with one of our surgeons. At this appointment our staff will go over all your surgical options and help you make an informed decision about cataract surgery, including: preparation for and recovery after surgery, benefits and possible risks of cataract surgery, surgical techniques and options, cataract surgery costs, insurance coverage, scheduling, and any other questions you may have.
Cataract surgery is a quick outpatient procedure (about 20-30 minutes) done in an outpatient surgery center or hospital under twilight anesthesia. During cataract surgery, your surgeon will remove your eye’s cloudy cataract lens and replace it with a clear artificial lens. This new artificial lens is called an intraocular lens (or “IOL”). When you decide to have cataract surgery, your doctor will talk with you about different surgical techniques, IOLs and how they work.
Recovery after cataract surgery is generally very easy. Most patients can expect to have about 1-3 days of downtime following their procedure. You will be using eyedrops for a few weeks to help protect against any inflammation or infection. Your surgeon will talk with you about how active you can be following your surgery. Often patients need to refrain from exercise, heavy lifting, underwater activities (pool, ocean, sauna, etc.), and dusty dirty environments for a few weeks. Driving can typically be resumed in a day or two after surgery.
Does insurance cover cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is generally covered by Medicare and most private medical insurances when your vision tests at a certain decreased level of acuity or clarity. However, even if surgery is covered by insurance you may still have some additional costs. Special types of IOLs and refractive correction (for patients who want to be less dependent on eyeglasses after surgery) are typically not covered and may cost you more.
Also, choosing to have cataract surgery before your vision has deteriorated enough may not be covered. In certain cases, it might be possible to get coverage before you meet the age or vision requirements. Talk with your surgeon if you are considering having early cataract surgery.
What do you do if you don't have Medicare or insurance coverage? You may still be able to reduce and manage the cost of cataract surgery. See if your employer offers flexible spending or health saves programs or sign up for outside financing such as CareCredit. We are here help if you have any questions!