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AARP The Magazine: Myth vs. Fact

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AARP Presents the Truth About Cataracts

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The True Story of Cataract Surgery

By Beth Howard
AARP The Magazine

A new AARP-Alcon survey revealed that many AARP members hold misconceptions about cataract surgery. Here are some of the most common myths, followed by the truth about the procedure.

Dispelling common misconceptions about cataract symptoms, cataract treatment options and cataract surgery.

MYTH: Cataract surgery is

FACT: It can be uncomfortable but shouldn’t hurt. After sedating you, the surgeon will numb your eye, make a small incision through which the cataract can be broken up with ultrasound, and replace the clouded lens with a synthetic one. Four out of five people in the new AARP-Alcon Eye Health Study report that the surgery was easier than they had expected.

MYTH: Cataracts are unrelated to overall health

FACT: “There are multiple links between systemic disease and the formation of cataracts,” says Brian Proctor, D.O., an ophthalmologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Illinois. Cataracts are a known side effect of diabetes and high blood pressure, for instance. The formation of cataracts is also associated with the use of steroid medications.

MYTH: I’ll need reading glasses after cataract surgery

FACT: Not necessarily. Multifocal and “monovision” replacement lenses correct vision at various points, near and far, and can sometimes reduce the need for glasses. Medicare considers multifocal lenses an upgrade beyond standard replacement ones, however. So if you want the specialty lenses, plan on paying extra for them, out of pocket.

MYTH: I will be able to tell when I need surgery

FACT: Most people with cataracts don’t realize how cloudy their vision has become. Before surgery, most say cataracts don’t interfere with their daily activities. But after the procedure, 62 percent find they’re enjoying life more. Although the need for surgery tends to peak in those in their 60s and 70s, cataracts can develop much earlier.

MYTH: It’s normal to see halos around lights

FACT: Along with cloudy vision, halos are a classic symptom of cataracts, says Proctor. Four out of five people in the AARP-Alcon study who had cataract surgery found it easier to drive afterward, both during the daytime and at night. (Halos can be a sign of corneal disease, too; if you’re seeing them, be sure to have your eyes checked.)

MYTH: Surgery can wait — I won’t go blind

FACT: Cataracts normally take years to develop, but they can progress to the point that you no longer see people and things (you may perceive light). Although cataract surgery almost always restores sight, doctors prefer that you schedule the operation before lenses get hard, which happens with age and makes them harder to break up and replace.