Cataracts: What You Need To Know

Occasionally in the course of a news reporter’s career,  their personal lives intersect with one of endless aspects of life we are tasked with writing for our readers.
In the case of this reporter, it’s cataracts.

Just recently,  I underwent the relatively uncomplicated and painless procedure of removing cataracts from my right eye.

There is a four-week recovery period which I am in the middle of now. I have to stay  away from my normal workout routine at the gym, avoid lifting anything over 10 pounds, bending at my waist and maintain a daily regimen of eye drops.

After the physicians determine their work has been successful, a similar procedure will be done on my left eye. And eventually I will be fitted with new glasses to allow me to see more normally.

Coincidentally, June was Cataract Awareness Month. Unaware of my experience, a media specialist educating the public about the topic contacted me to pitch the idea of writing about the subject.

I did a good  interview with a local surgical specialist who performs cataract removal procedures daily  for  Virginia Eye Consultants, which has several sites in the region, including Norfolk.

According to  Dr. Walter Whitley,  some 4 million people undergo the surgery I experienced each year.

There are 24 million  people who have cataracts and 600,000 of them live in Virginia.

Even more interesting, according to Dr. Whitley, is that as with other diseases, for one reason or another, African-Americans are twice as likely  to contract cataracts.

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Further,  according to the National Eye Institute, cataracts are more likely to occur among women. According to the latest stats, in  2010, 61 percent of Americans with cataracts were women; 39 percent were men.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye which leads to a decrease in vision. Cataracts often develop slowly.

Symptoms may include faded colors, blurry vision, halos around light, trouble with bright lights, and trouble seeing at night. For people who are active and mobile, it may impair your quality of life and interaction with the world
This may result in trouble driving, reading, or recognizing faces.

Poor vision caused by cataracts may also result in an increased risk of falling and depression. Cataracts are the cause of half of the cases of blindness and 33 percent of visual impairment worldwide.

The cause approximately 5 percent of the blindness cases in the United States and nearly 60 percent of blindness in parts of Africa and South America.

Blindness from cataracts occurs in about 10 to 40 per 100,000 children in the developing world, and 1 to 4 per 100,000 children in the developed world.

Cataracts become more common with age. More than half the people in the United States had cataracts by the age of 80 of those tested.

This reporter was undergoing an examination to determine a prescription for new glasses when I was told I had cataracts in both of my eyes.

Over the past  year or so, I had been experiencing a decrease in my ability to focus  and enjoy my daily old fashioned routine of reading books, newspapers and other periodicals in my study at home and work.

“It is part of aging, as we get older,  gray and dry up,” said Dr. Whitley.  “It has a real impact on our quality of life for people, especially for people who are 40 to 60 years of age,”

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Apart from aging, there are various factors that cause the disease, according to Whitely, including diabetes, certain  medicines, especially steroids,  exposure to ultraviolet light, alcohol consumption, smoking and trauma.

Even  people who may not be affected by these factors, Dr. Whitley said , should  schedule a yearly eye examination to be screened for the problem.

Although it is a relatively painless and  quick surgery which allows you to go home an  hour after the procedure,  your primary care physician must determine of you are physically able to undergo it.

There is a light anesthesia and the cloudy cataract impacted lens is removed and a new clear one is inserted.
There are no stitches involved.

“There is a very high success rate and most people can see the next day,” said Dr. Whitley.

Usually, the patient returns one day after the procedure to allow the physician to measure  the initial progress  of the eye. There will be at least one more post-surgical inspection by the eye specialist before the end of a recuperation period.

Whitley says many people have a new post-surgical lease on life, “see clearer and a lot of patients do not know what they have been missing, especially colors and nature.”
After the surgery the patients are given several different small bottles of eye drops to deter irritation and  inflammation of the eye.

Patients should consult their physicians about the best way to administer the drop during the  recovery period.

For more information  about cataracts and awareness of the issue, go to

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

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