Cataracts usually begin slowly, and it may take years before a person notices the tell-tale blurred vision. This mostly age-related condition affects more than 1 in 5 seniors, and it may show up earlier in people with an underlying systemic disease, says Dr. Rosa Braga-Mele, an eye surgeon and professor of ophthalmology at the University of Toronto. 

Cataract removal

Cataracts can’t be prevented, so surgery is the only way to deal with the condition. Patients are generally referred for cataract surgery — one of the safest and most effective surgical procedures — when they start having difficulty with functional activities, most notably driving, says Dr. Kylen McReelis, an eye physician and surgeon and the incoming chair for the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (EPSO).

"Cataract surgery is typically an outpatient procedure and most patients need only local anesthesia."

The procedure involves the use of a high-frequency ultrasound device that breaks up the cloudy lens into small pieces, which are then gently removed from the eye with suction. After all remnants of the cloudy lens have been removed, the surgeon inserts an artificial lens (intraocular lens or IOL). Cataract surgery is typically an outpatient procedure and most patients need only local anesthesia.

Laser-assisted surgery

Laser-assisted surgery is a new and emerging technology gaining in popularity, although the vast majority of cataract surgeries are still done traditionally. A state-of-the-art laser along with advanced 3-D imaging (like a “fancy ultrasound,” according to Braga-Mele) takes a cross-section of the eye, which enables surgeons to make very precise and accurate cuts. The laser can also correct astigmatism more accurately with precisely placed curved corneal incisions.

This surgery has been offered in Europe since 2008 but has only been performed in Canada for two years, says Braga-Mele. Although this new technology increases precision and accuracy, she points out that traditional cataract surgery is highly effective and is completely covered under OHIP.

So, whether you decide to go traditional or to go laser, rest assured, you’ll be provided with an excellent and safe treatment that will markedly improve your vision.