Do you think of cataracts as an old peoples disease? Think again!
I was 38 when my optometrist told me, "Carine, you have a cataract forming in both eyes, I want you to go see an ophthalmologist".
So I went. The ophthalmologist at my HMO confirmed that I had developed a "sub capsular" type of cataract -beginning on the back of my lens due to the amount of prednisone injections and tablets I had be given prior to my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and the ensuing use of the steroid until the disease was under control.
There are other types: nuclear (naturally formed in the aging process), congenital (found in babies) and cortical (the type many diabetics develop).
A cataract is a clouding of the eyes natural lens. Because of this growing "cloud", vision deteriorates. A cataract just doesn't appear one day; they start out small and go from there. Somewhere down the line it began to feel as if I were looking through glasses in desperate need of cleaning. Then light became irritating-whether it was from the sun or a lamp. Soon driving at night became a hazard since the blurred vision and irritation from the lights affected my depth perception. Colors did not seem very, well, colorful.
I didn't feel "safe" driving so I took myself off the road for several years once the sun started to set. Fortunately, I worked at home.
What causes cataracts besides age, certain diseases and drugs? Some studies suggest it could be the exposure to ultraviolet light. Many, if not most optometrists/ophthalmologists urge their patients to always wear sunglasses and visors. Newer studies have shown that a way to prevent or slow their growth is to eat a diet high in anti-oxidants and lowering salt intake. Other risk factors? Smog, over-imbibing and smoking to name a few.
My treatment was on hold until the cataract had "ripened". Most people usually know when this happens because it impairs their vision enough that their daily life is affected. For me, besides not being able to drive at night, I found that my ability to read my beloved mysteries and work crossword puzzles became a chore instead of a pleasure.
Once the coating on your eyes drives you nuts, its time to set up surgery. During surgery, the cloudy natural lens is removed from the eye. After that, in most cases a permanent intraocular lens (IOL) implant replaces the natural lens to restore focusing power. My surgeries were done within 4 months of each other. When my procedures were done, my very deft surgeon gave me the best there was at the time: one far-sighted, one near-sighted lens. Now I do not need to wear glasses for a good portion of my day. I can manage without reading glasses, but prefer to wear them when trying to enjoy a novel or, again, work puzzles. For driving, to sharpen the images of street signs, I wear distance lenses. Fortunately, all these goodies are in one set of gorgeous glasses that even transition into sunglasses.
According to Dr. Dan Tran of the NVision Centers (www.NVISIONCenters.com, formerly TLC) in Orange County, California, there are more choices for patients available since I had my surgeries- some of which include multi-focal lenses, making the need for glasses or contact lenses unnecessary.
As for the surgery itself-it's strictly outpatient. After the surgery, I wore aprotective cup for the first 24 hours. A lot of fluid leaked out during this time. It felt as if I had scratched my corneas severely.
I had to wearlarge shades for the next 6 weeks and had to stay out of bright light. Also on my list of donts were strenuous activities, lifting anything over 25 pounds, bending over or sleeping on the side my surgery was done on. I had to stay out of dusty and windy areas. Antibiotic drops had to be used several times a day for several weeks.
After 24 hours, I had a post-op appointment. But I could see the difference before I even got out of bed in the morning. Even with the shield on (it had pin holes in it), I was able to see! I opened my eyes, looked across the bedroom to the digital clock about 15 feet away and saw the time-CLEARLY AND WITHOUT ANY ASSISTED HELP!!!
I screamed for my husband and read the clock. I had not seen that far away without the aid of coke bottle glasses or contact lenses since I was 10 years old. I was 42.
When I saw my doctor, I was so excited-I kept thanking him over and over again. He kept telling me it was his pleasure and to please calm down, he didn't want me to cause any complications! I read the chart-I was seeing 20/40 in the just done eye. Even my husband started to cry.
As with most surgeries, there are risks and side effects. Tran says the most common are pain, swelling and bleeding. For the most part, 98% of all surgeries are successful and are without complications and 95% of patients come out with improved vision.
Some of the more serious complications? According to Tran, 1% may suffer from a retinal detachment. There have been cases of dislocated lenses resulting in double vision as well as increased pressure in the eye and droopy eyelids.
Those patients who seem to have these complications usually have other eye-related problems such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
I eagerly anticipated the second surgery. Fortunately, it met with the same success as my first. According to a Swedish study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology in November 1999 (this was before my surgeries in late 2001 and early 2002) it found that the younger the patient was when they had undergone the surgery the happier they were with the outcome.
I can certainly attest to that-I consider my implants to be one of the best things, health wise, that has ever happened to me. So if you ever need to consider cataract surgery, know for most people it makes them not only see a lot better, but feel better as well.
About the Author: A California-based journalist Carine Nadel has written for many publications.