What are Cataracts?
Cataracts are opacities of the lens of the eye that reduce the amount of light that reaches the retina. For the individual with cataracts, this results in a dimming of vision that can progress to blindness if the cataracts are not treated. In fact, there are currently 15,000,000 people worldwide who have lost their vision due to cataracts. While there is currently no way to prevent the development of cataracts, they can be effectively treated with a cataract surgery procedure. Cataracts can occur as a result of several different causes, but are generally associated with aging. The following are risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing cataracts: smoking, alcohol use, exposure to sunlight, obesity, diabetes, and use of steroid medications such as prednisone. When cataracts are due to aging they typically occur in both eyes but often affect one eye more than the other.
At the current time, surgery is the only treatment for cataracts. Cataract surgery involves the removal of the affected lens and replacement with an artificial lens. While in the past cataract surgery was reserved for individuals whose vision had deteriorated significantly, the current criterion for surgery is simply that the presence of the cataract interferes with the individual’s ability to perform the activities of their daily living.
Until recently, the lenses that were used in cataract surgery were exclusively monofocal, meaning that vision through them was only in focus at a single distance from the eye. Now, there are multifocal and accommodating intraocular lenses. Multifocal lenses have several fixed focal points meaning that objects will appear in focus at several different but fixed distances from the eye. Accommodating lenses attach to the surrounding musculature like the eye’s natural lens and can focus on objects at any distance.
One advantage to the use of accommodating intraocular lenses for cataract surgery is that in addition to treating the cataract, they also treat presbyopia, a condition that frequently co-occurs with cataracts. Presbyopia is the impaired ability to focus on close objects that results from changes in flexibility of the eye’s lens. Presbyopia occurs to some degree in nearly everyone after the age of 40 and is what results in the need for older individuals to where reading glasses. The Crystalens accommodating lens made by Bausch and Lomb is approved for the treatment of cataracts with presbyopia.
Cataract Surgery Cost
Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in people over the age of 65 and it is typically covered by Medicare. However, Medicare may not cover the full cost of the surgery if multifocal or accommodative lenses are used as these are more expensive than monofocal lenses. Thus, the out of pocket expense may vary and speaking with the ophthalmologist performing the surgery is the best way to determine what the final cost will be.