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Publication Date: Wednesday, September 10, 2003

THE DOCTOR'S CORNER: A few facts about cataracts, and surgery to restore vision THE DOCTOR'S CORNER: A few facts about cataracts, and surgery to restore vision (September 10, 2003)

Cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Modern cataract surgery is an effective and comfortable procedure that in most cases restores one's vision. Here are the most commonly asked questions regarding cataract surgery by my patients.

Is a cataract a film or growth over the eye?

No. A cataract is a gradual clouding or opacification of the normally clear lens of the eye.

Does everyone get cataracts?

Yes. The crystalline lens does not stay clear forever. The lens usually begins to opacify in most people by the age of 70. Other factors such as previous injury to the eye, medical problems such as diabetes, use of medications such as steroids, and family history of cataracts are also related to cataract formation.

Do you have to wait for the cataract to "ripen"?

This concept of a "ripened" cataract no longer applies to modern surgery. Cataract surgery is considered when your vision is compromised and interferes with daily activities such as reading or driving.

Is a cataract removed by laser?

No. The lens is removed in surgery using an ultrasonic device that emulsifies the lens into small fragments that are then removed. After the lens fragments are removed, an intraocular lens implant is inserted into a membrane. If this membrane gets cloudy after surgery, the vision can become blurry again. Because this membrane is thin, a laser can then be used to create a central opening in the membrane. This allows the light to pass through again to the back of the eye, restoring one's vision.

Would I still need reading glasses after cataract surgery?

That depends on what kind of implant is placed in the eye. The more commonly used monofocal implant focuses light at one distance, usually to see far away. With this implant, reading glasses are needed. If a multifocal implant is placed, there is a possibility of not needing reading glasses. However, the multifocal lenses can cause more glare with nighttime driving, and decrease contrast sensitivity.

Does the implant have to be replaced at a future time? Does it wear out?

No. The implants used today are left in the eye indefinitely and do not need to be replaced.

Dr. Donna Lee is a board-certified ophthalmologist at the Menlo Medical Clinic who has been in practice for over 10 years. She is a general ophthalmologist and specializes in cataract surgery.

New health column

The Almanac's monthly Health and Fitness section will feature a regular column in which Menlo Medical Clinic physicians, writing in their areas of expertise, will address various health topics. If you have a question regarding a particular health issue you'd like to see addressed in a future column, write to the clinic at or call 497-8022.


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