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Guiding a Loved One Through Cataract Surgery


Cataracts affect more than 24.4 million Americans age 40 and older

If a loved one has trouble seeing and has been diagnosed with a cataract, we may be concerned about what the next steps are and how to prepare. The surgery typically recommended to treat this condition is common and low risk, but it may still be helpful for us to come prepared with knowledge on how best to help our loved ones through the procedure and recovery.

What happens during cataract surgery?

There are two types of cataract surgery that an individual can undergo. The more popular procedure is called phacoemulsification. The surgeon makes an incision in the eye and inserts a probe that softens the lens and sucks it out. The second option is called extracapsular cataract extraction, where a similar incision is made in the eye, and surgical tools are used to take the cloudy portions of the lens out. In both cases, the back of the original lens stays in place for an artificial lens to rest upon.

The next step involves inserting an intraocular lens into the open space. It becomes part of the eye and requires no additional attention. In most cases, the surgeon will use a flexible intraocular lens that folds and then unfolds once it has been placed in the eye space. It is important for our loved ones to understand what happens during these low-risk, outpatient procedures.

These procedures have been perfected to the point where they provide relief for most cataract sufferers; however, there can be some complications, including inflammation, bleeding, swelling or infection.

How should a loved one prepare for surgery?

In preparing for surgery, our loved ones will need to have some tests done a week or two beforehand to “fit” the new lens to the eye. Their doctor may also advise that they stop taking aspirin or blood thinners, because these medications could cause them to bleed excessively. They will most likely be asked to use antibiotic eye drops, and will typically need to fast for 12 hours prior to the surgery.

Before surgery, drops will be administered to dilate the pupils. The surgery itself typically takes less an hour, and most patients are able to stay awake during the procedure. An anesthetic will be administered to numb the area around the eye.

What will happen after the surgery?

After surgery, our loved ones will most likely get to go home. If we are not available to drive them home ourselves, we should arrange a ride for them from another family member, friend or transportation service. We should also plan on helping our loved ones around the house or arranging for home care post-surgery, as their vision will most likely be blurry for a few days as their eye heals, and they will not be able to immediately engage in certain physical activities such as bending over or picking up heavy objects. We should make sure our loved ones understand that they can expect some discomfort for the first few days. Some may experience itching and/or fluid discharge. It is also important to keep the eye clean, so we should remind our loved ones to not rub it.

Our loved ones will go to the eye doctor a day or two after the surgery to make sure the eye is healing properly. If our loved ones have a second cataract, we can schedule a second surgery after the first eye is fully healed.

Resource: National Institutes of Health
A version of this article appeared in Private Health News. 

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