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The Miracle of Modern Cataract Surgery

2005 has ushered in a new era in the field of cataract surgery, as the FDA has approved the Alcon ReSTOR lens implant. Whereas before, cataract surgery often provided the ability to see far away without glasses, but not up close, the ReSTOR corrects both near and distance vision, so most patients don't wear any glasses at all.

We'll discuss the ReSTOR in detail a bit later, but first, lets take a closer look at cataract surgery and the role of lens implants in general.

Inside of the eye, just behind the colored iris, sits a small lens that is normally crystal clear. This lens is essential to clear vision, as it helps focus light onto the retina in back of the eye.

For a variety of reasons, the lens can become cloudy, at which time it is referred to as a cataract. Cataracts occur in people of all ages, including newborn babies. In young adults, they are commonly the result of trauma, prolonged inflammation within the eye or prolonged use of certain medications - most notably steroids. But, most cataracts occur in older individuals as a part of the natural aging process.

Cataract surgery involves removal of the cloudy lens and insertion of an artificial lens implant to take its place.

The most common method of removing the lens is through phacoemulsification. This process uses a small probe that emits high frequency sound waves to fragment the lens into tiny pieces that are then vacuumed out of the eye. Lasers are sometimes used for this purpose as well, but the vast majority of cataracts in the developed world are removed by phacoemulsification. Before "phaco", a much larger incision was made and the entire lens was removed from the eye at once.

The small incisions associated with phacoemulsification usually self-seal without stitches, heal quickly and don't induce significant astigmatism, so the visual outcome is often better.

The last step of the procedure is to place the new lens into the eye. The accompanying illustrations show the placement of a foldable lens, another recent advancement.

Most of the time, cataract surgery is covered by medical insurance. For a list of the insurance plans we accept, please see our Insurance Plans page.

Because of its newness and cost, insurance coverage for the ReSTOR lens varies. In some cases, implantation of the ReSTOR is not possible. However, a number of excellent traditional lenses are always available, including our preferred lens, the Alcon AcrySof.

We'll discuss the pros and cons of each lens, as well as your individual insurance situation, at the time of your cataract evaluation.

For a thorough discussion of the ReSTOR and AcrySof lenses, please see our Cataract Surgery Lenses page.

For more information on the cataract surgery experience, please watch the cataract series in our Video Presentations section.