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FOX 34 Your Health: Timing variable for cataract surgery

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Updated: 6/19 7:20 am
It is a common eye problem that comes most often with age: the development of cataracts.

Professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, Dr. David McCartney, compares cataracts to smudges on a camera lens.

"If you think of your eye as a video camera, every camera has a little lens. And the lens inside the eye just gets cloudy," he said.

Cataracts develop for a variety of reasons, he said, but the most common factor is genetics.

"Patients in some families will get cataracts in their 60s. Other families...they'll be fine until their 80s."

They also develop over a long period of time. So just because you get a diagnosis does not mean something has to be done right away, he said.

"The patients needs to have some visual problem. Either you can't drive safely at night or you're having trouble reading and that's a part of your job. And the timing of this surgery is variable. Sometimes pilots will have to have surgery much earlier. That cataract is much milder but they can't meet the criteria to keep their license."   

He warns patients to be cautious about being swept into surgery too soon.

"If you don't feel like you have a problem with your vision and someone else says it's time for cataract surgery, with rare exception, you should get a second opinion."

There are no medical treatments for slowing or reversing the development of cataracts. However, surgery is a quick and effective method to replacing the clouded lens with an artifical implant.

"We generally can numb the eye up with eye drops or a little shot close to the eye itself. Often sedatives are used but they're mild and people can be about their business the rest of the day, except driving. The surgery will take between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the hardness of it and the technique used."

He said the current modern surgery is a two step process. This is because the lens capsule that surrounds the cataract is typically left in place to support the lens implant.

"After a few months we can laser that out in the office. It's not a procedure you have to go to the hospital for," McCartney said.

There is proven way to prevent cataracts, but according to the Mayo Clinic, regular eye exams, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol use, wearing sunglasses, and maintaining overall health through diet and exercise can be helpful.

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