If you are at risk for developing cataracts later in life or know someone who is beginning to develop them, then you may dread the time when you or the person you love has to go under the knife to have them removed. Although traditional cataract surgery is very safe, many people simply fear it because the thought of having their eyes cut into with a scalpel just sounds scary. There is now a cataract-removal surgery that allows doctors to skip the scalpel and another treatment still in development that may one day make removing cataracts completely non-surgical.
1. Laser Cataract Removal
With laser cataract removal, the surgeon first uses a special machine to capture a 3D image of the eye. Then, incision sites are planned ahead of time. During surgery, the planned incisions are made with a super-precise, thin laser beam. Then, the same laser is used to break up the cataract-damaged eye lens in a very gentle manner and remove it. Last, an artificial eye lens is placed in the eye to replace the damaged one.
This differs from traditional cataract-removal surgery, where there is no image of the eye created beforehand. It is not until the surgeon is in the midst of the procedure that he or she decides exactly where the incisions are needed to successfully remove the cataract. The incisions are made with a traditional scalpel, and then the cataract is broken up using an ultrasonic device that can overheat and damage the eye slightly. A new, artificial eye lens is then inserted to replace the natural lens.
While both procedures can have good outcomes, the outcome of traditional cataract surgery relies heavily on the experience and good judgment of the surgeon. The laser cataract removal process relies more on precise calculations made by a computer, so complications are less likely to occur. There is also typically less downtime after laser cataract removal compared to the traditional procedure.
Also, if you or a person you love simply fear scalpels, then a procedure that can be performed completely with lasers may make pre-surgery anxiety disappear.
2. Cataract-Removing Eye Drops
While not on the market yet, researchers are trying to create eye drops that can restore eye lenses plagued with cataracts back to a healthy condition. Cataracts develop in the lenses of eyes when the balance of natural proteins that make them up is disrupted. Researchers now suspect this disruption involves a deficiency of a specific molecule in the eye lens called lanosterol. Their theory is that replacing this molecule in the eye can restore it to a healthy state, and so far, further studies have shown that they may be completely correct.
Eye drops containing this molecule have been tested in animals with cataracts, and the drops have amazingly cleared up the cloudy, cataract-afflicted eye lenses of the animals. While the drops have yet to be tested on humans, they are expected to work on people, too, although side effects are yet unknown.
If you currently have cataracts, then you should not wait for these drops to hit the market to have your cataracts removed. Rigorous testing for efficiency, safety, and side effects must be performed before they can be approved, and this process can often take years. Talk to your eye doctor to learn more about your options for cataract treatment.
Also, if side effects end up outweighing the benefits altogether in humans, then scientists may have to go back to researching other methods or different types of eye drops that are safer and have fewer side effects.
If you or someone you love is developing cataracts, then you can have them removed with no scalpel required. If you have cataract risk factors but don't have them yet, then the fact that they may one day be treatable with simple eye drops may give you peace-of-mind about the future of your eye health.