Seeing Clearly


by Joseph Parisi, MD, Clemson Eye

Whether we’re working, playing or enjoying an active retirement, our vision is key to productivity, enjoyment and personal safety.

Yet, along with aging comes an increased risk of cataracts and degradation of vision. Among those 65 to 69 years old, 25 percent have cataracts; by age 70, the prevalence of cataracts increases to 36 percent, and at 80 it reaches 68 percent, according to the National Institute of Health. There are other risk factors for cataracts, such as smoking, drinking excessively and prolonged exposure to the sun.

A cataract occurs when proteins in the eye’s natural lens clump together, blocking light and causing dull, cloudy vision.

Cataracts are often managed in early stages with stronger prescription glasses. But the condition is progressive and, left untreated, can result in blindness. In fact, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide.

Telltale signs of cataracts

How can you tell if your vision deficits are the result of cataracts? A comprehensive eye exam is the best way. But there are some common signals to be aware of, including blurry vision, double vision, ghosting images or a muddiness to your vision. Trouble seeing at night and light that seems dimmer are frequent warning signs of cataracts, as well.

While cataracts are very common, the good news is they are also very treatable. Surgery is really the only treatment. Fortunately, cataract surgery is one of the most common, safe and successful surgeries in the United States.

Types of cataract surgery

Basic cataract surgery involves removing the diseased lens and implanting a monofocal lens. The monofocal intraocular lens (IOL) clears your vision at a single focal point. It cannot correct astigmatism or other existing refractive errors. This treatment is covered by Medicare and most health insurance plans. However, if you wore eye glasses before your basic cataract surgery, you will still need them after the surgery.

Innovations in laser cataract surgery using advanced lens implants mean you can now have your vision corrected during cataract surgery and be free of, or much less dependent on, glasses regardless of your age. Advanced intraocular lens implants can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism during the same cataract removal process.

A portion of the cost of laser cataract surgery with advanced lens implants is covered by Medicare and most health insurance plans. However, an additional payment is required.

Octogenarian Doug Durnin of Townville, SC, opted for laser cataract surgery with an advanced lens that corrected his near and distance vision. As a result, he is free of glasses for the first time in his adult life: “I wore bifocals for about 40 years before my surgery,” he says. “I don’t need them anymore. I am very happy about that!”

Benefits of cataract surgery

Positive outcomes are the norm in cataract surgery, whether you opt for basic or advanced cataract surgery. A survey conducted by Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute found that 93 percent of patients reported being able to read distant road signs better, 82 percent said driving had become easier and 66 percent said they were surprised how much their vision improved.

Improved vision affects many other health outcomes, including a significant reduction in the number of hip fractures occurring from falls. The Journal of American Medicine published an extensive study in 2012 of 400,000 Medicare patients who had cataract surgery with a matched group that had not. They found 30 percent fewer cataract patients had hip fractures resulting from falls.

Eye exam is first step to better vision

If you think your failing vision may be cataract related, the first step is a thorough eye exam. Your optometrist can determine if a cataract is the issue and refer you to an ophthalmologist for a more in-depth evaluation.