…Not Just Better Vision
By: Richard Gans, MD
The most obvious effect of cataract surgery is seeing better, but did you know it also can help you in other unexpected ways?
Why? Because, even if you don’t know you have cataracts, you may gradually make life changes over time to compensate for the vision loss.
Maybe it’s subtle — you notice that you need more light for reading. Or maybe it’s more obvious — you have to give up driving at night. Either way, these changes impact your overall quality of life.
In fact, vision loss has been directly linked to depression and anxiety. You may no longer feel like doing your favorite things when you have cataracts, even if you are still physically able.
Here are three benefits of surgery that go beyond improvements in your vision:
1. Improve your quality of life
Cataracts can prevent you from being able to do everyday tasks such as reading or driving, as well as the things you do for fun. You may feel less independent and more socially withdrawn.
A 2013 study found that quality of life for those who had cataract surgery improved by 36 percent after surgery when comparing those patients to people who didn’t have the surgery.
2. Decrease your risk of falls and fractures
As we age, falls become more dangerous (and even deadly).
Vision loss is a major contributing factor. A study published in 2012 evaluated Medicare beneficiaries (age 65 and over) diagnosed with cataracts. Overall, the findings associated cataract surgery with a 16 percent decrease in the odds of hip fracture one year after the procedure. For those with severe cataracts, surgery decreased the odds of a hip fracture by 23 percent.
3. Improve your chances of living longer
Results of a long-term study published in 2013 associated cataract surgery with significantly better long-term survival of older people.
The study showed a 40 percent reduction in mortality risk for people who had cataract surgery, when comparing them with those who didn’t have it — which simply means you improve your odds of living longer if you have the surgery.
What causes cataracts in the first place?
Cataracts occur when there is a change in the nature of the proteins in the lens of the eye. The proteins make the lens cloudy and prevents light from passing through, which causes vision loss. Younger people get them, but they generally affect most people as they age.
You may not notice that you have them, but symptoms sometimes include:
- Blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Decreased night vision
- Halos around lights
How can you protect your vision?
You can’t avoid getting cataracts completely, but there are some steps you can take to protect your eyes:
- Get regular eye exams. Cataracts typically develop slowly with few symptoms. With a regular comprehensive eye exam, your ophthalmologist can detect cataracts earlier and check how much vision you’ve lost.
- Wear the right prescription eyeglasses. You may still need glasses before and after cataract surgery. If your prescription changes, it’s important to get new glasses.
- Stop smoking. If you smoke, it increases your risk of developing cataracts and puts you at risk for many other health conditions. If you need some help, talk to your doctor. He or she can offer support and help you put a plan together.
What do you need to know about cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is one of the most frequently performed surgeries in the United States, and it’s one of the safest. It’s only done on one eye at a time and is usually done when you’re awake. (Your doctor will numb the eye area with anesthesia. An anesthesia doctor or nurse may also give you medication for relaxation.)
During the procedure, the eye surgeon removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with an artificial one. Typically, this lens lasts for a lifetime. About 95 percent of people report improved vision after the surgery.
Your eye doctor can help you decide if cataract surgery is right for you. If it is, you may find you see and feel better afterwards.