When Lynchburg Living asked me to cover new cataract treatment surgery options, I already knew where to start my research. I’ve been ghostwriting for various eye doctors for years, in addition to editing medical research articles. Although I am not an expert, I know where to check for legitimate information.
This saves time in the process because I know where to find the most up-to-date details.
By Danielle Verderame
Originally Published in Lynchburg Living
Characterized by cloudy vision, cataracts impact over 20 million Americans over the age of 40 each year. In fact, experts estimate that 90 percent of people in the United States will develop cataracts by the age of 65. As the average lifespan increases, the demand for treating age-related diseases, such as cataracts, has grown. Piedmont Eye Center in Lynchburg has responded to this influx with five local surgeons who provide the latest advancement in laser surgery.
To separate misconception from fact, the doctors detail causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention related to cataracts.
Most often, cataracts develop as a result of aging. At birth, the young, healthy lens provides clear vision. Over time, the lens can become clouded. Much like a camera, the clouding on the lens creates a blurry image. One of the surgeons at Piedmont Eye Center, Elizenda Ceballos, M.D., explains, “Early on, these changes don’t cause any symptoms, but as they progress the quality of vision becomes affected.”
In addition to aging, several other health and lifestyle factors can increase a patient’s risk:
● Natural aging process
● Uncontrolled diabetes
● Trauma to the eye
● Ocular diseases, such as inflammation
● Prolonged use of steroid medications
● Previous intraocular surgery
● Radiation treatments to the head, such as cancer treatment
● Family history
For most people, cataracts are a normal part of the aging process. As eyes mature, many people experience cataract symptoms.
Cataracts impact vision quality during normal activities, such as seeing at night, driving, watching television or reading. “As cataracts worsen, patients progressively lose contrast and the sharpness in their vision,” says Saxton Moss, M.D. “Eye exams are important because many ocular conditions are clinically silent until late in the disease process.”
Like most diseases, early diagnosis translates to an easier treatment. If a patient experiences a decline in their vision, a discussion with their doctor will help them identify the right course for treatment.
Some patients may choose to delay or avoid cataract surgery by changing their eyeglass prescription. Depending on their condition, those patients may be satisfied with the results. If the symptoms still negatively impact their quality of life, patients can pursue surgical treatment.
Doctors treat cataracts using several techniques, including laser surgery. The surgeons at Piedmont Eye Center prefer this method for their patients. Another surgeon at Piedmont Eye Center, Gene Moss, Jr., M.D., explains that laser cataract surgery, “…has taken an already elegant procedure and added laser precision to improve accuracy. While not everyone is a candidate for this technology, your doctor can help you decide if laser cataract surgery is right for you.”
To begin, patients set up an appointment for a cataract evaluation. If they are a good candidate for surgery, they can schedule one within one to four weeks. Cataracts in both eyes require separate surgeries. Most of the time, the surgeries are scheduled a few weeks apart to allow patients time to heal.
On the day of the surgery, the process takes one to two hours total. This includes paperwork and preparation.
The actual surgery lasts about 10 minutes and can be performed with only topical anesthesia and medicines that help you relax. 3D mapping provides doctors with a plan for the size, shape and location of the incisions. Then, surgeons use the laser to make the necessary incisions. Ultrasound technology breaks up and removes the actual cataract. The natural lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. Using a laser increases precision and accuracy during the procedure compared to traditional methods.
After surgery, the patient should have someone available to drive them home. Then, within one to two days, patients can begin driving and resume light activity. In most cases, full activity is allowed after one week. Recalling his patients at Piedmont Eye Center, James Paauw, M.D., notes, “Some patients see great the day after surgery. Most will notice improvement at 1-2 weeks, but some may take up to a month.”
One of the biggest benefits of the laser treatment is a shorter average recovery time. Within a few weeks of a patient’s initial surgical consultation, their quality of life and their clarity of vision can improve significantly.
Since cataracts are a side effect of aging, it is impossible to prevent them completely. However, three key precautions can help. First, eating healthy helps the entire body age well, including the eyes. Second, wearing sunglasses protects eyes from the damage of ultraviolet rays. Third, avoiding or quitting smoking decreases risk. Although people cannot protect themselves from accidents, aging or family history, healthy lifestyle choices can mitigate some of the risks.
Know Your Options
As more Americans celebrate an increased lifespan, medical treatments for age-related diseases have advanced. Laser cataract surgery is no exception. “Laser cataract surgery offers an advantage over traditional methods in allowing us to more accurately achieve the desired vision our patients at Piedmont Eye Center want,” says Darin Bowers, M.D.
For patients considering cataract treatment, understanding the treatment options and surgical process can help them make an informed decision.