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Cataract Surgery: I See, Said The Blind Man
by Marjorie Dorfman

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There is, at present at least, no way to eliminate a cataract other than by surgically removing it. The procedure is performed under a microscope to provide a magnified view of the eye. A small incision is made and the front surface of the cataract is opened to allow access to the clouded tissue inside. That portion is then removed and replaced with a clear, plastic intraocular lens (IOL). New lenses are being developed all the time to make surgery less complicated for surgeons and the lenses more helpful to patients. One new IOL allows vision at all distances, rather than just one. Still another blocks the passage of both ultraviolet and blue light rays, which research indicates can cause damage to the retina.

eye surgeonMany people with cataracts can see quite well and are not in need of surgery. It is only when the cataract interferes with functioning by impairing vision that surgery becomes necessary. It is almost always an outpatient procedure, except in my case when the administration of anesthesia required me to stay overnight. (If I had another eye to consider, I probably would do it the same way.) Procedures have improved however, and the eye is always well numbed and a mild sedative swirls one away to a land beyond sailing ships and cottony clouds, if only for a little while.

More than one million cataract surgeries are performed each year in the United States and it is considered one of the safest and most successful procedures in all of medicine. More than 95 per cent of patients experience substantially improved vision (myself included) within four to six weeks, and the chance of complications is small. Eyedrops accelerate the healing process and prevent infection. Almost everyone will need a new glasses prescription after surgery, although it may only be needed for distance or reading depending on the choice of the implant’s power.

Many studies suggest that exposure to ultraviolet light is associated with cataract development. For this reason, many eye care professionals recommend wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to lessen exposure to the sun. Other studies suggest that people with diabetes are at high risk for developing cataracts. I must say that I am among them, but when I developed my cataracts I did not have the disease. (Once again there’s the norm and me rolling around outside of it.)

Still other studies claim that a diet high in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene (Vitamin A), selenium and vitamins C and E, may forestall cataract development. Increased salt intake, however, may increase the risk. (It is not known what throwing some over the shoulder will accomplish.) Other factors include cigarette smoke, air pollution, and heavy alcohol consumption. There have been many studies, but still more are needed for conclusive answers.

So be prepared as the boy scouts always say, for cataract formation can happen to you when you least expect it. (Who says getting older isn’t suspenseful?) If you are anything like me, it may happen before. There’s little you can do either way except realize that this too will pass, just as a rain cloud across the horizon; that is, if you can still see the horizon.

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"Inside every older person is a younger person – wondering what the hell happened."
. . . Cora Harvey Armstrong

"No man is ever old enough to know better."
. . . Holbrook Jackson, Ladies Home Journal, 1950


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