Cataract treatment

ask the expert dr. sheri rowen, mercy medical center

August 25, 2008|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Special to The Baltimore Sun

The greatest risk factor for cataracts, which occur when the eye's natural lens hardens and becomes cloudy, is aging, says Dr. Sheri Rowen, director of the Eye and Cosmetic Surgery Center at Mercy Medical Center. In fact, by the time they reach the age of 80, more than 50 percent of all Americans have a cataract or have been treated for cataracts with a relatively simple surgical procedure.

Millions of people a year have cataract surgery. What are cataracts?

Cataracts are the clouding and hardening of the natural, God-given lens of the eye [made mostly of protein and water, the lens is the clear part of the eye that helps to focus light on the retina]. It is as if your lenses got cloudy, and you can't clean them. You actually have to remove the lens that has become a cataract from the eye and replace it with a new lens.

Who is at risk for cataracts?

Aging is the biggest risk factor, so everybody is at risk. But there are all types of factors such as heredity, sun exposure, diet and smoking - anything that causes premature aging. Diabetes or any inflammatory disease or [taking] steroids also can be risk factors.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

There's no pain, but you may have blurred vision, inability to see reading material properly or to see far away (it becomes harder to see street signs), and you may see glare or halos at night or even during the day.

Do cataracts come on suddenly or are they a slowly progressing condition?

A cataract can come on suddenly, but usually they occur more gradually. When you notice you are starting to not see properly, you should consult a doctor. Anyone who doesn't see properly should get in to the doctor rapidly. It could be any of many things, but you don't wait on vision changes.

What do you typically tell patients who have been diagnosed with cataracts?

That you have a cataract, which means you have clouding of your natural lens, but we can fix it with a 10-minute procedure.

What is the treatment for cataracts?

In most cases, a surgeon will remove the clouded lens and replace it with a clear, plastic lens.

Traditionally, the surgery involves use of needles under the eye for anesthesia. These needles prevent the eye from moving, seeing, and the eye will have no sensation. Patients wear an eye patch for several hours until the anesthetic wears off.

A new procedure that I use requires no needles. The patients can see when they leave, and they have no pain and no stitches. This technique uses drops only for numbing the eye, and the patient feels nothing. Both methods employ use of some IV sedation, but my patients are awake and responsive while I do the surgery.

Another new development is that of a lens called Crystalens, which gives the patient the ability to obtain near and far vision in each eye without the use of glasses. (If a patient chooses to have a Crystalens used to replace his natural lens, the procedure costs more.)

Can you protect yourself from getting cataracts?

You can't prevent cataracts, but the best thing to do is to wear sunglasses and eat a diet filled with good antioxidants such as leafy greens.

online Read more about cataracts at

baltimoresun.com/expertsadvice

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