Everyone gets cataracts as they get older. The lenses of many people’s eyes get so cloudy they need to have them replaced through cataract surgery. But what if you have another medical issue, like glaucoma? Can you still get cataract surgery then?
What are cataracts? What is glaucoma?
It is helpful to think of the eye like a camera. The lens of the eye works like the lens of a camera to let the light in. That light travels to a thin layer called the retina in the back of the eye. This acts like the “film” of the camera. All that information that the eye collects from the retina travels back to the brain through the optic nerve.
A cataract is when the natural lens in the eye becomes cloudy. Like having a foggy or cloudy camera lens, no images can be seen clearly.
Glaucoma is a nerve disease in which the optic nerve slowly dies away and is lost. This can cause permanent vision loss, usually affecting the peripheral vision first and later causing loss of the central vision.
Cataracts in their early stages can be treated by glasses. But if the cataract is cloudy enough, cataract surgery is the best treatment.
Glaucoma cannot be cured. However, there are a number of treatments that can help prevent it from getting worse by lowering eye pressure and maintaining a healthy level. Treatments most often include eye drops, but can also include laser treatments, surgical treatments, or both. Sometimes cataracts and glaucoma are treated at the same time through combination cataract and glaucoma surgery.
Is cataract surgery okay for me?
In most cases, having glaucoma will not change the way you or your doctor should think about your cataracts. In fact, cataract surgery sometimes lowers eye pressure, so there’s a chance you could take fewer glaucoma medications afterwards. Also, if your cataract surgeon is skilled in glaucoma treatment, they may be able to provide glaucoma treatment, or even perform glaucoma surgery, at the same time.
However, glaucoma patients do still need to be cautious if undergoing cataract surgery, and should advise their doctor of any prior history of glaucoma. Eye pressure can increase after cataract surgery, so it’s important your doctor closely monitors eye pressure if you have glaucoma.
Ultimately, every patient’s situation is different, and they should discuss all their options with their doctor before considering any treatment or surgery.
"For most people, glaucoma does not have to be a major consideration in your decision of whether and when to have cataract surgery,” CEENTA Ophthalmologist Veena Rao, MD, said. “Every person and every eye is different, so be sure to ask your doctor to help you know the options best for you.”
Dr. Rao practices in our Matthews and Monroe offices. To make an appointment with her or any of CEENTA’s eye doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.
Glaucoma affects African-Americans at higher rates than people of other ethnicities. Learn more in this blog.
Eating shellfish may reduce your risk of getting glaucoma. Learn more in this blog.
Sunlight can be a risk factor for cataracts. Learn more in this blog.
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