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Over the past decade, there have been revolutionary changes in the way cataracts are removed. This has made the operation even more successful. Patients can generally expect outpatient cataract surgery with little to no discomfort under local anesthesia. Most patients will have no-stitch small incision surgery, and should be able to return to their normal lifestyle shortly after the operation.
Most cataracts occur as part of the aging process, from a change in the chemical composition of the lens. They usually do not become a problem until you are in your 60s or 70s. If you live long enough, you are almost certain to develop one eventually. Some, but not all, scientists feel that prolonged exposure (over years) to sunlight can damage the lens and plays a role in cataract development. Cataracts can also be caused by eye injuries, certain eye diseases and medical conditions, hereditary or birth defects, and, occasionally, some medications. They are not caused or made worse by using or "overusing" the eyes.
You can tell if you have a cataract if you have noticed a gradual blurring or dimming of vision. Some people see a "halo" or haze around lights, especially at night, or have hazy or double (or multiple) vision. At first, the symptoms may occur only in dim light or when you face bright oncoming car headlights; the glare may make night driving especially difficult. Pain, headaches, and eye irritation are not usually symptoms of cataract.
It is possible to have a cataract and not notice it. If the cataract is small, it may not disturb your vision or cause any symptoms at all. Even a dense cataract may not be noticed if the other eye is providing clear vision. In fact, you might not be aware of the blurred vision unless you happened to cover the normal eye. Unless it is very dense, a cataract is not visible to the naked eye of an observer. Once a cataract begins, no one can predict how fast a cataract will develop. Generally, the clouding of the lens progresses slowly and gradually over a period of months or years. It is not known why some cataracts progress rapidly and others progress slowly.
In recent years, new and better techniques have been developed for correcting the optical problems caused by having a cataract removed. One of them, the intraocular lens implant, is a tiny piece of plastic that is a permanent replacement for your natural lens. You never take it out, and it requires no care. You cannot feel it or see it, and it is not noticed by others. Today, almost all cataract surgery patients choose to have their cataractous lens replaced by an IOL.
At present, the only effective treatment is surgical removal of the cloudy lens. In no-stitch surgery, a cataract is removed by making a small incision into the front of the eye. The incision is tunnel-like and self-seals when the surgery is completed, reducing recovery time. A highly sophisticated ultrasound instrument is inserted into the eye that breaks up the opaque lens into tiny fragments that are then suctioned out through the instrument's hollow tubing.
The success of cataract surgery in restoring sight is about 95%. It is one of the most effective and safest operations performed today. The high success rate is due to advances in microscope technique, high-tech instruments, ultrafine needles and use of intraocular lenses.