The Workings Of The Eye

The eye is a complex organ that brings in images of the outside world through light waves. These waves must reach the retina at the back of the eye, which sends messages along to the brain. As light moves through the eye, the lens and cornea focus the beam into a clear image the brain can understand. Cataracts seek to put a damper on the whole operation.

You’re blocking the light

A cataract is a degradation of the eye’s natural lens caused by protein molecules starting to break down. Typically age-related, cataracts form inside the lens and cause the once-clear tissue to turn opaque. This causes the lens to lose the ability to focus light correctly on the back of the eye. The result of cataracts is often blurry vision that grows worse with time. At present, the only way to treat the disease is through a surgical procedure.

Out with the old, in with the new

During surgery, an ophthalmologist makes a tiny incision on the surface of the eye. Through that incision, the surgeon breaks the cataractous lens into several small pieces using sound waves. The broken lens is removed through the same incision by a vacuum.

If the procedure were to end here, the eye would be left without a lens and the ability to focus light properly. Fortunately, modern medicine has developed artificial lenses with the sole purpose of replacing those removed during surgery. Because these new lenses are artificial, cataracts have no way of growing back.

I don’t want seconds

Although cataracts cannot return, a small portion of patients can develop what’s known as a secondary cataract. In these instances, the membrane holding the artificial lens begins to turn cloudy. As the membrane loses clarity, light struggles to pass through and reach the retina. This can result in blurry vision similar to what is experienced with cataracts. There’s no rhyme or reason whether an individual will develop secondary cataracts or when the condition will appear.

Laser focus

Also known as posterior capsular opacification (PCO), secondary cataracts are treated very differently from traditional cataract surgery. While cataract removal requires an operating room, secondary cataracts are taken care of right in the doctor’s office. No incisions are necessary, and the physician performs a YAG capsulotomy with a laser to make a small opening.

On the road to recovery

The eye doctor will likely numb and dilate the eye with drops before using the laser. Vision in the eye may remain blurry for a few days as the eye recovers. Drops may be required after the procedure to prevent swelling or infection, but patients should not experience any pain. After a YAG laser, secondary cataracts should not need any future treatment.