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Understanding Cataracts & How They Are Removed

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What is a Cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. It is one of the most common causes of vision loss in the world in people over 40.

All together, cataract accounts for more cases of blindness than glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy combined.

Types of Cataracts

There are 3 different types of cataracts. These types include:

  • Subcapsular cataracts which occur at the back of the lens
  • Nuclear cataracts that form deep in the center of the lens
  • Cortical cataracts which have a distinctive white opacities that start in the peripheries and work towards the middle.

Different types of cataracts are usually found under different circumstances. For instance, a subcapsular cataract is more likely to be found in people with diabetes or those taking high doses of steroid medications, while nuclear cataracts have been linked to aging.

Causes & Symptoms of Cataracts

The lens in our eye is made up of water and protein. As we age, the protein may begin to clump together and cloud in small areas. This is a cataract and has the potential to grow bigger, making it harder to see.

The exact cause as to why our lens changes with age is unknown. However, research shows that several factors besides aging, such as diabetes, obesity, and smoking, are linked to cataract development.

Symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Colors seeming not as bright as they once were
  • Temporary improvement in your near vision

Should you notice that oncoming headlights at night seem to cause more glare before, or that the lamp beside your bed has become seemingly too bright, you may be displaying symptoms of a cataract.

Cataract Removal Surgery

As cataracts cause loss of vision it is important that they are treated correctly. Cataract removal surgery is surgery to remove the affected lens from the eye. The lens is then replaced with an artificial lens.

How a Cataract is Removed

A cataract may be removed in one of three ways. The first way is through a procedure called phacoemulsificationDuring this procedure, the surgeon uses a tool which produces sound waves capable of breaking up the cataract.

Extracapsular extraction is another one of the three procedures which uses a small tool to remove the cataract whole through a larger incision.

Finally, laser surgery can be used to remove cataracts. A high energy laser beam is used to soften the cataract, followed by a process similar phacoemulsification to break up the cataract.


Like any surgery, cataract removal surgery has a few risks. It is up to the patient to determine whether or not the risks of the surgery outweigh the chance of losing eyesight or not.

In rare circumstances the entire lens cannot be removed and another procedure will need to be completed at a later time. Another rare complication can include infection and bleeding resulting in permanent vision problems.

Consult your Optometrist for a complete list of the risks of this procedure and more.

Written by Dr. Daniel Evans

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