Cataracts affect more than 20 million Americans over the age of 40. The proportion of seniors over 80 years of age affected by the disease surpasses 50 percent, and the visually impairing disease affects nearly 100 percent of seniors over the age of 95.
What is a Cataract?
A cataract is the clouding of the normally clear lens of your eye. It is largely a result of the aging process; however, other contributing factors can accelerate the disease, such as diabetes, smoking, UV light exposure, and steroid medications.
How Does a Cataract Affect Vision?
The eye works just like a camera. It has a lens and a film just like your point-and-shoot at home. A cataract is a clouding of the naturally clear lens in the eye. The clouding varies in degree from slight to complete opacity and obstructs the passage of light. As a consequence, seeing through a cataract is a bit like looking through a frosty or fogged-up window. The clouded vision can make it more difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night) or see the expression on a friend’s face. Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t disturb your eyesight early on, but with time, cataracts will eventually interfere with vision.
Fortunately, the treatment of cataracts has evolved dramatically over the past 20 years. Cataract surgery involves removing the natural lens of the eye and implanting an artificial lens that is typically made of acrylic. Traditionally, incisions in the cornea are made using handheld blades to access the cataract. Your surgeon will then use a surgical instrument to manually create an opening in the lens capsule that holds the cataract. The goal is to make the corneal incisions precise, the opening in the lens capsule as circular as possible in the right location, and sized to fit the replacement lens. Most patients do very well with this conventional treatment; however, as patients become more productive later in life, the demand for precise visual outcomes has also grown.
Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery
Enter Refractive Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery (ReLACS), the newest wave of technology that has transcended the accuracy and precision of traditional visual outcomes. Although this new technique is not covered by medical insurance just yet, femtosecond laser technology is bringing new levels of safety, accuracy, and predictability to cataract surgery. ReLACS uses femtosecond laser technology to precisely create all incisions, a perfectly circular opening in the lens capsule, break up and soften the hard cataract, and reduce astigmatism.
No matter how well versed your surgeon may be in cataract surgery, no human can come close to a laser that is a millionth-of-a-billionth of a second fast. This procedure, along with the variety of intraocular lens choices, has given patients options in terms of their vision. The ultimate winner is the patient, who now has a highly predictable method to choose the type of visual outcome he or she desires.