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Learning about Cataracts

May 07, 2013

I was on a call with a patient today to make an appointment for instruction on a talking glucose meter. At the end of the call, the patient closed with “See you tomorrow.” Interesting comment from a patient who is legally blind. In the diabetes world, we typically work with patients who have lost their vision or have impaired vision from diabetic retinopathy.  I thought about how much we take our vision for granted.  A few minutes later, a blurb popped up on my news alerts.  It stated that over the age of 40, an estimated 25 million people have cataracts and more than 2.5 million suffer from glaucoma.  The article goes on to state that after the age of 50, about 2 million men and women suffer from age-related macular degeneration. So bored with what I was doing, I decided to look up more information on eye disease and visual impairment.

Cataracts are sometimes considered the price many of us pay for growing older. Normally, light passes through the eye’s clear lens to shine on the retina, which is the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye. As we age, usually after 40, small clumps of protein form in the lens causing it to become cloudy.  This clouding is called a cataract.  Vision is impaired and cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Cataracts are more common in those that smoke and in those with elevated glucose values due to excess glucose being deposited in the lens contributing to the clouding.

Surgery is the only effective treatment for cataracts.  During the operation, the surgeon makes a small opening in the cornea or front part of the eye. A tiny, high-frequency ultra-sound probe is inserted through the opening to break the cloudy lens into fine particles which are then vacuumed out and replaced with a clear artificial lens.  It can be done in as little as 15 minutes. It is not usually painful, as the patient will receive an anesthetic eye drop as well as an injection to help them relax.  When my mother, at age 88 had cataract surgery, I kissed her as she went into surgery and went to the waiting room to read my book.  I barely got settled in when the nurse came out to say she was done.  I repacked my things and she was sitting in a wheelchair already dressed and ready to go to lunch. 

They are now studying new laser-assisted procedures to evaluate the safety and advantages of this new technology. 

Next month, I will talk more about glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

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