Mediaplanet: What are cataracts and what is their cause?

Dr. Tim Hillson Cataracts occur when the natural lens in the eye gets cloudy. Symptoms of cataracts include glare around headlights, trouble reading in dim lighting, and difficulty with other tasks like recognizing faces or shopping. The most common cause of cataract is aging.

Other causes include trauma, medications such as steroids, systemic diseases such as diabetes, and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light. People who smoke seem to get cataracts earlier than non-smokers. Occasionally, babies are born with a cataract.

MP: How invasive is surgery to correct cataracts?

TH: Cataract surgery is a day surgery. Most patients go home the same day. A small incision is made in the cornea and the cataract is vaccuumed out using an ultrasound, and then replaced with an artificial lens.

The surgery is technically challenging but most surgeons do 12 or 14 or more per operating room day, so the results have become very predictable with this accumulated experience. The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes.  

Mediaplanet: How common/successful is cataract surgery, and what is the recovery period?

TH: Cataract surgery is a very common surgery. About 50 percent of seniors will eventually undergo the procedure, making it one of the most common surgeries performed today. Cataract surgery almost always results in improved vision for the patient.

Most surgeons ask their patients to take it easy and not do anything too strenuous for about seven days after cataract surgery. After that recovery period, it is back to normal for the vast majority of patients.