Have you heard about modern cataract lifestyle lens options? We are not talking about superhuman lenses that will give the blind sight, like Jordi on StarTrek: TNG. However, there are some options that can offer improvements over the one-size-fits-all lens implants associated with cataract surgery of the past.
First of all, you need to understand that when a person has their cloudy natural lens removed—that is, the cataract surgery—a man-made, clear lens is inserted to return normal focusing properties to the eye. For two generations now, surgeons have been implanting lenses that, when properly chosen and fitted, enabled people after cataract surgery to see 20/20 or better again.
Here’s the catch: only one distance can be ‘dialed in’ for each lens. These lenses are known as monovision lenses because they only focus on objects at a single distance. These lenses remain an excellent choice for clear vision for those who don’t mind wearing glasses after surgery, as glasses would be required in order to see a clear image a different distance than the one their lenses are designed for. For example, a person with two monovision lenses set for distance (one for each eye) would still need reading glasses to read near, and a person with two lenses set for near work will need glasses for driving or anything that requires seeing beyond 10 feet.
Not so anymore, though. Premium intra-ocular lenses are now available to those who want the ability to see near and far without glasses or contact lenses. In fact, the technology has evolved to the point that people with an otherwise healthy visual system can most often achieve a level of 90% glasses independence, and some never need glasses again at all!
Before you get too excited, you need to know that there are limitations. Not everyone can benefit from the technology. People with macular degeneration or other eye disease should not have this type of lens implanted. And, there are people who struggle with the loss of sharp contrast at lower light levels or the rings and halos in their vision with these types of lenses.
That said, these symptoms decrease over the first year as the brain begins learning to adapt to the technology. The technology is constantly improving, but still there simply is no single lens that is the perfect choice for everyone. This is why it is crucial that you have a comprehensive examination and discussion with your surgeon before you make your choice.
Not many years ago, Medicare refused to pay for the surgery when these lenses were chosen by patients. Needless to say, that put huge limitations on their widespread adoption. Now, however, Medicare does allow patients to choose these premium lenses and to simply pay the extra charges for the technology to be implemented. This combination of coverage for all and free-enterprise has worked well not only to make options available for people, but also to foster the advancement of lens technology, from which we all benefit.
Jamie Oakman, MD, is a physician with GHS Eye Institute. For more information about cataracts, sign up for The Facts on Cataracts, a lunch-and-learn event taking place Tuesday, April 17 from noon-1 p.m.