It's a Whole New Outlook for Cataract Patients

ByABC News
October 3, 2008, 7:56 PM

Oct. 4 -- FRIDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Cataracts used to be terrible to treat.

Removing them meant stitches in your eye and days spent recuperating. And artificial replacement lenses only came in one power, which meant eyeglasses for most recipients.

But those days are over.

Cataract surgery has been honed to the point where it's now done on an outpatient basis, and people are back seeing in no time at all with vision often much improved over what they had -- even before their lenses clouded up.

"We don't usually have to put a single stitch in the eye," said Dr. Jim Salz, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southern California and a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "We make an incision that seals itself. Recovery is much quicker and much more painless."

And many patients aren't only back seeing, they're seeing better than ever, thanks to advances in artificial lenses that more closely mirror normal vision.

"Cataracts are the most common operation performed anywhere in the body in the United States," said Dr. David F. Chang, clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, San Francisco, and chairman of the American Academy of Ophthalmology's Cataract Preferred Practice Pattern Committee. "We're now approaching three million cataract surgeries performed annually, and there have been many improvements in the techniques."

A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens. Most cataracts are related to growing older, and by age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery, according to the U.S. National Eye Institute.

Some cataracts occur when the proteins that make up much of an eye's lens begin to clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. Over time, the cataract can grow larger and cloud more of the lens, affecting vision.

Other cataracts involve the normally clear lens slowly changing to a yellowish or brownish color, which adds a brownish tint to vision.