As we age, changes to our eyes are all but inevitable. You may need reading glasses to see a restaurant menu, or notice that you now experience difficulty with glare, particularly from headlights while driving at night.
The latter problem is often the result of cataracts, which more than half of Americans will develop by the time they turn 80. A cataract occurs when the lens—a structure in the eye that focuses light onto the retina to form a clear image—starts to become cloudy.
“A normal lens should be clear, like a windshield,” explains Yvonne Wang, MD, a Yale Medicine ophthalmologist. “When a cataract is forming, the proteins of your lens start to degrade. They change in consistency and the lens is no longer able to maintain that clarity.”
When cataracts are first forming, a change in your glasses or contact lens prescription might be enough to help. But because cataracts worsen with age, many people end up needing surgery to replace the existing “cloudy” lens with a new synthetic one. Fortunately, cataract surgery is a commonly performed and safe procedure.
In recent years, there have also been many advances in cataract surgery, including a laser-assisted one, and a tool called intraoperative aberrometry (ORA), which takes an additional measurement of the eye during surgery. This allows for a more accurate measurement of the synthetic lens that is used to replace the original lens with the cataract.
Lens choices are quickly evolving as well, now going beyond simply replacing the lens. Options such as multifocal lenses not only correct the cataract issue but also address vision problems, allowing some patients to no longer need glasses or contacts after cataract surgery.
In this video, Dr. Wang talks more about advances in cataract surgery.