July 05--The operation to remove cataracts is the most common eye surgery in the
United States, yet many adults who could benefit from the procedure know very
little about the eye disease.
A cataract is when the crystalline lens of the eye begins to get cloudy and
obscure vision. It is a natural part of aging and although it can be a side
effect of illness, it most commonly is not.
Dr. Mark Remington, an ophthamologist at the Glacier Eye Clinic in Kalispell,
said cataracts are caused by the hard lens simply having too many cells. The
lens has a fixed amount of space and as cells replicate, they begin to grow too
numerous and vision is obscured.
"Symptoms are blurred vision or seeing a glare or halo over lights while night
driving," he said. "Need for increased lights while reading is another sign. The
ability to see contrast is diminished."
The structure of the eye is seemingly simple for such a complex organ. Unfocused
light enters the eye through the cornea, the clear "window" on the outer front
of the eye. The cornea refracts (focuses) the light, sends it through the
crystalline lens that refracts it again.
The lens, like a magnifying glass, focuses the light on the retina, the nerve
lining at the back of the eye which passes the signal via the optic nerve up to
the brain, producing images.
A cataract clouds the lens, making light scatter more before reaching the
retina, blurring vision.
Cataract surgery is a simple outpatient process that Remington said he usually
can perform in 15 minutes. Patients leave the day of the surgery, wear a small
metal shield over their eyes while they sleep and use eye drops for a month.
Remington said his clinic does more than 1,000 cataract surgeries annually.
The numbers of cataract patients have been steadily increasing, since cataracts
most often show up either in the sixth decade of life or as a side effect of
diabetes. More than half of all Americans 80 or older have cataracts, according
to the National Institutes of Health.
"Other causes for cataracts include trauma or infection," Remington said. "Known
risk factors are age and woman have a little higher rate. Smoking and poor
nutrition are also factors."
Typically, unless a cataract is in an advanced stage, it is not visible unless a
light is shown directly into the eye. For this reason, adults can gradually lose
vision and contrast without noticing deteriorating vision.
Remington, in his 15th year with the Glacier Eye Clinic, said a cataract is
nothing to panic about. If vision begins to wane, patients can go to their
eye-care provider (an optometrist or ophthamologist) for a checkup.
"I get asked by patients all the time if there is a medicine they can take,"
Remington said. "Unfortunately there isn't. Surgery is really the only way to
take care of it."
Doctors apply a local anesthetic and the patient suffers little or no discomfort
and is fitted with an acrylic or silicone implant, replacing the lens and
Although milky lenses often happen naturally as people age, a healthy diet and
staying hydrated can potentially help in keeping vision clear.
Reporter Ryan Murray may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at
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