Daily Inter Lake, The (Kalispell, MT)
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 improving vision.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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