People who have cataracts suffer from the progressive clouding of the eye’s natural lens. This condition may occur in one or both eyes. It is not sight-threatening because, when vision becomes too cloudy to perform normal tasks, the natural lens with cataracts can be removed and replaced with what is called an intraocular lens. Intraocular lenses are made of very thin biocompatible material and the appropriate magnification powers to reinstate clear, sharp vision. After cataract removal, patients expect to enjoy years of good eyesight, rightfully so. However, studies indicate that up to 40% of them don’t. Here, we discuss why and what we do to help our patients address this problem if it does occur.
Sometimes Things are Made Too Simple
The term “secondary cataracts” was invented by the medical community. It was done to provide a simple way of explaining what can happen after cataract removal surgery but may have created a new concern for patients. To be clear, cataracts do not grow back. Cataract removal is not the removal of one part of the clouded lens or of a “growth” on the lens; it is the removal of the entire lens that has developed clumps of proteins. The whole natural lens is removed and replaced with the appropriate intraocular lens.
What Really Happens
Secondary cataracts describe a condition called posterior capsular opacification (PCO). This may develop a few months after cataract surgery or several years later. Remember, less than half of all cataract patients develop this condition at all. Posterior capsular opacification occurs when proteins grow at the back of the lens capsule, the membrane that holds the new intraocular lens that has taken the place of the natural lens. The lens capsule is typically transparent but can change over time.
Laser Treatment for Posterior Capsular Opacification
Should vision become clouded anytime after cataract removal, we can address the issue of PCO using a YAG laser. The procedure is quick and comfortable. Patients do not require anesthetic to tolerate the laser very well. To target the cloudy capsule, the doctor applies dilating drops to the eye. The laser then creates an opening at the center of the clouded capsule, eliminating the area of tissue that has become hazy.
For the sake of simplicity, most people will continue referring to PCO as secondary cataracts. What is most important is that patients understand there is a simple treatment that can resolve this problem. If you need cataract treatment, we can help. Call (352) 237-8400 to schedule a visit to our Ocala office.