Cataract Surgery Made Simple


by By Ken Dubois /

Posted on March 31, 2009 at 8:25 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:53 PM

About the Author

Ken DuBois is a marketing guru by day and a freelance writer by night. He has written film reviews for, and worked for a time as a theater critic. He is passionate about working out: When he's not in the pool, he's hiking, biking, walking and, weather permitting, working on his backhand.

Eye surgery sounds pretty scary--it's one of those things you hope you never have to face. But according to the Mayo Clinic, more than 90 percent of people who have a cataract removed enjoy improved vision after the procedure. Find out how this minimally invasive surgery can help your vision--and learn how to prevent getting cataracts in the first place.

"I put it off because I was afraid of the operation," says Jere, an 80-year-old who delayed her cataract surgery for over a year after she first noticed the problem. "My depth perception was affected. The headlights and streetlights were haloed--they weren't distinct--so I wouldn't drive at night." Finally, her vision in one eye got so bad, she couldn't put it off any longer. "It was getting so I was only using one eye," she recalls.

"But when I had the surgery," she says, "it was just like going to the dentist--it was nothing! In fact, I wasn't in the chair as long as I usually am at the dentist. So all these fears were unfounded."

Cataract Cattle Call Cataract surgery has become so routine that some large health care providers now schedule groups of patients on a single designated day--the first Tuesday of every month, for example.  Not only is the treatment advanced, the problem is extremely common, especially with the steady increase in America's senior population. As many as 70 percent of Americans over the age of 75 have cataracts significant enough to impact their vision, according to the Mayo Clinic; by age 65, about half of all Americans have developed some degree of lens clouding.

In other words, cataracts are a natural part of aging for most Americans. Fortunately it's a condition that is not a danger to the health of one's eye, and one that causes irritation only in the most extreme cases. The problem occurs only in the lens, which is located just behind the iris (the colored part of the eye) and pupil, and is roughly the size and shape of an M&M. Lenses focus the light that enters your eye, on its way to the retina at the back inside wall of the eyeball, in the same way a camera lens focuses light before it hits the film. When the lens becomes clouded, the pictures that land on the retina are, well they look like your camera is suddenly out of focus.  

Clean Living, Clean LensLike a lot of body parts, the lens becomes less flexible and thicker as you age. They're mostly made of water and protein fibers, and as you get older, the protein fibers may break down and clump together. The result of that fiber breakdown is clouding, which may worsen over time and usually affects both eyes symmetrically. Why lenses change with age is still a matter of ophthalmological debate, but the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health asserts that clean living--in particular, being a non-smoker--can reduce the risk.

Many people realize they have a cataract when they experience one or more of these common symptoms:

  • Clouded vision
  • Impaired night vision
  • A halo effect around lights
  • Fading colors

Others learn they have a cataract while getting their eyes examined; the condition is easy for a health care professional to spot, even in the early stages. And when it comes time to correct the problem, the procedure is simple: Cataract surgery means removing the lens completely, and replacing it with a synthetic clear lens implant. The surgery, with the help of local anesthetic, is pain-free, and recovery is fast. In some cases, a person may be able to resume normal daily activities on the day of the surgery, and may start driving again the very next day.

Jere recalls her cataract surgery lasting about 20 minutes. She went home feeling fine, with no discomfort at all, and right away began to see what she'd been missing. "When I picked out the paint for my kitchen--yellow--the painter nicely tried to talk me out of it. Well, I got home from my cataract surgery, and I go into the kitchen, it was--whoa! I didn't know the color was so bright!"