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The Facts on Cataracts

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The Facts on Cataracts

Jul 10, 2014

Once daunting and scary, cataract surgery is now performed routinely and safely. Dr. Craig Chaya of the Moran Eye Center talks cataract facts. He discusses the causes, effects, prevention and outcomes for patients with cataracts.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Cataracts, what do you need to know? We're going to talk about the basics of cataracts next on The Scope.

Intro: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: We're with Dr. Craig Chaya. He's with the Moran Eye Center. Talking about cataracts today, we're going to cover a little bit of ground here in case you're kind of curious as to what they are, what kind of damage they can cause and what solutions are out there right now. Thank you Dr. Chaya, I appreciate your time.

Dr. Chaya: Thank you, Scott. I appreciate it.

Interviewer: First of all, let's talk about cataracts. What is, on the very basic level, a cataract?

Dr. Chaya: The cataract is basically when the lens, the natural lens of the eye, becomes cloudy and it no longer can focus light properly and it tends to scatter light and that's what leads to the blurry vision that often people complain about with cataracts.

Interviewer: Like Vaseline on a camera lens maybe?

Dr. Chaya: Or fog...

Interviewer: OK.

Dr. Chaya: ...looking through a smoke screen.

Interviewer: Sure.

Dr. Chaya: Those are common symptoms that people describe.

Interviewer: And what causes that?

Dr. Chaya: What happens is the lens which is normally very clear and as it ages or it undergoes certain changes that promote the development of a cataract certain proteins develop in the eye and accumulate in the eye that cause it to become cloudy and it's no longer able to maintain that transparency.

Interviewer: Yeah, do we know why that happens?

Dr. Chaya: Yeah, mainly these proteins accumulate. Oxidative damage occurs in the lens. There are certain medications that can sometimes cause acceleration of cloudiness...

Interviewer: Uh-huh.

Dr. Chaya: ...of the lens and basically that's the bottom line is the cloudiness, whether it comes from different pathways or it's trauma or inflammation or just age related changes, the lens, the end all is that it gets cloudy.

Interviewer: So, is there anything that I can do to prevent them if they're going to happen to me?

Dr. Chaya: Yeah, you know there's a lot of things that you can do to prevent cataracts. Most of the cataracts that we see are age related cataracts and those age related cataracts are often due to a variety of things but the main top risk factors include things like excessive UV light exposure, excessive sunlight exposure, also certain medications like steroids can promote the development of earlier cataracts. Trauma is another one that could lead to cataract development.

Interviewer: Like what kind of trauma?

Dr. Chaya: Eye trauma...

Interviewer: OK.

Dr. Chaya: ...of any kind, whether it be hobbies related or sports related...

Interviewer: Oh, okay...

Dr. Chaya: ...accidents...

Interviewer: ...some assault to the eye of some sort.

Dr. Chaya: That's correct. Direct blows to the eye, that concussive nature of the energy can go back and disrupt the lens fibers and cause clouding of the lens.

Interviewer: Alright, so it sounds like wear some eye protection if you're really concerned.

Dr. Chaya: Definitely.

Interviewer: Uh, maybe wear sunglasses.

Dr. Chaya: Yes.

Interviewer: But, uh, don't get freaked out about the sun because it's, is it a real major problem?

Dr. Chaya: You know, in this part of the world we have such great tools, great technology to be able to address cataracts. The great news about cataracts that I think we should really highlight is that it's reversible.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Chaya: Yeah, we can actually take the cataract out, put a new artificial lens in there and really restore people's vision back.

Interviewer: And I've heard that as far as getting something that that's one of the best things you can get because your eyesight is going to be fantastic.

Dr. Chaya: Often times, patients after surgery are really amazed at the level of quality vision that they can see with, with the new lens.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Chaya: And we like to call it high definition vision after the surgery and people are just dramatically, their vision is dramatically improved and their perception of colors is often one thing that they really vividly describe to us.

Interviewer: And from what I understand, this surgery is not that bad.

Dr. Chaya: You know what; it's come a long way. Maybe thirty years ago patients were admitted to the hospital for a week, they had sandbags over their eyes. They really couldn't move around very much.

Interviewer: Wow.

Dr. Chaya: And now it's outpatient surgery and most of the time the surgery's done under 30 minutes. Patients don't have to be put to sleep and the recovery is very quick.

Interviewer: Wow, that's crazy, so like two, three day recovery and you're seeing clearly, more clearly than you had in years probably?

Dr. Chaya: Yeah, many patients describe the next day saying "Wow, this really has made a difference."

Interviewer: So, is there anything that could go terribly wrong if I have cataracts and I'm not taking care of them, if I don't come in for treatment?

Dr. Chaya: Well, you know cataracts are going to cause blurring of your vision and also are going to decrease your ability to see in certain contrast levels, especially at night. Patients often complain about not being able to see the lines at night or not being able to see street signs until they get close. So, from a safety standpoint, definitely, having cataracts can impair your driving skills. Another common one is balance. You need good vision to be able to stay balanced.

Interviewer: Hmm.

Dr. Chaya: And so, it's been demonstrated that removing cataracts can actually help decrease the risk for hip fractures, for example, in elderly patients.

Interviewer: Wow, and those are terrible when that happens.

Dr. Chaya: Yes, definitely. So, I think improving vision overall, reversing the cataracts and improving people's vision, can help keep people safe.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Chaya: Yeah.

Interviewer: I just want to be clear on one thing though, if you can't convince Grandma that she needs to go get the operation for a couple of years, her eyes aren't going to suffer anymore are they?

Dr. Chaya: No, cataracts are really not an emergency.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Chaya: It's very unusual circumstances where cataracts actually become an emergency where it's important to get this cataract out sooner rather than later.

Interviewer: Alright, any final thoughts on the topic of cataracts?

Dr. Chaya: Cataracts, I think, it's really important to understand that removing the lens, the lens is responsible for about one third of why you see clearly, the cornea is another important one, so sometimes patients after cataract surgery they may not see as well as they'd like to and there are other reasons, but certainly cataracts are a major important reason why people don't see well in their older years.

Interviewer: But safe surgery...

Dr. Chaya: Safe surgery.

Interviewer: ...good surgery.

Dr. Chaya: Good outcomes, generally people, over 90% of patients, are very happy after cataract surgery and really the lowest complication rate of most surgeries that we have in medicine.

Outro: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine; this is The Scope, University of Utah's Health Science's radio.