Ask The Doctor

Clearing Up Concerns About Cataract Surgery

Dear Dr. Garner,

My doctor told me that I have cataracts that need to be removed. I am a little nervous about the surgery. Could you tell me a little about this condition and why I got it? I am in good condition otherwise.

Clouded Cataracts in Clinton Hill


Dear Clouded,

Cataract surgery is actually one of the most common surgical procedures performed in America.

What is a cataract? Cataracts form when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. More than half of Americans ages 65 and older have a cataract, and it is thought that nearly everyone will develop one if they live long enough.

There are several types of cataracts; the most common is called nuclear cataract, because it affects the inside of the lens. Another common form is a cortical cataract, in which the outside of the lens becomes cloudy.

The lens works much like a camera lens, focusing light onto the back of the eye on the structure called the retina. The lens also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away. The lens is mostly made of water and a substance known as a protein. As we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract, and over many years, it may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.

The main symptoms of a cataract are blurred and dulled vision, which cannot be corrected by wearing stronger glasses or contact lenses. You may find the need for a brighter light to read. Increased sensitivity to glare may also be a problem.

Why do some people get cataracts at an earlier age than others?

Diabetes is a risk factor for developing cataracts. Keeping blood sugar under tight control and maintaining a normal weight can slow this.

Smoking greatly increases the chance of getting a nuclear cataract, the most common type in the United States. To lower the risk for cataracts, stop smoking.

Heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor as well.

Many studies suggest that exposure to ultraviolet light is associated with cataract development, so it is advised to wear sunglasses and a hat to lessen exposure.

People who use steroids are also more prone to cataracts.

Some eye-care experts believe that a diet high in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene (vitamin A), selenium and vitamin C and E, may slow down the development of cataracts. While this is not proven, it is always good to get as many of these vitamins in their natural form, i.e. in food as opposed to pills.

Now that we have reviewed the symptoms and some possible causes, what are the treatments available?

Cataracts are a curable eye disease. The surgery performed is rapid, safe and nearly always completely successful. Nine out of 10 people who have cataract surgery regain very good vision. A cataract needs to be removed only if it interferes with one’s vision enough to prevent one from driving, reading or other essential activities. After the surgery, an artificial lens is implanted in the eye so that the person no longer needs to wear Coke-bottle glasses.

Remember, however, that having a cataract does not mean you need immediate surgery. When symptoms begin, you may be able to improve your vision for a while using new glasses, appropriate lighting or magnification.

Many people consider poor vision an inevitable fact of aging, but cataract surgery is a simple relatively painless procedure to regain regular vision.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.