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In Her Own Words: Living With Cataracts

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Joyce, 51, found herself dealing with cataracts and their consequences at a younger age than most people. Here, she describes how the cataracts affected her life, and how her vision has been since having cataract surgery on both eyes.

What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?

My vision started to become distorted and I experienced triple vision. These changes came on gradually over a period of about 3 to 5 years, with changes in the left eye developing first. I kept thinking I just needed stronger glasses. But each time I got new eye glasses, I still couldn't see correctly using them.

What was the diagnosis experience like?

I saw several doctors before I was finally given a diagnosis of cataracts. Most of the doctors did not see the cataract formation at all in the beginning. The exam was similar to a normal eye examination: I read the standard eye charts, and my eyes were dilated so the doctors could look into them. Finally the cataracts became large enough to be identified as the cause of my visual disturbances.

What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?

My initial reaction was disbelief, as I felt I was way too young to have cataracts. They usually occur in people over 60, but I was only in my 40s. Even now, it still seems odd to me to have had this happen so early.

How are cataracts treated?

I had two surgeries—with the surgery for my right eye about a year after the surgery for my left. In the surgery, I had the cataracted lenses surgically extracted and new lenses implanted. Cataract surgery is actually pretty interesting . I was lightly sedated, but still awake enough to know what was going on, and my eye was anesthetized with eye drops. At some point I saw a kaleidoscope of color, then darkness, then pure light. It was a strange experience, but there was absolutely no pain involved; the most uncomfortable part was trying to lie still.

In both cases, the surgery was done on an outpatient basis. I arrived in the morning and was home by noon. I could see immediately after the surgery. I didn't even need an eye patch except to protect my eyes at night, and I could not sleep on the operated side for a month. If I went outside, I wore protective sunglasses.

Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to cataracts?

As the cataracts progressed, I found it extremely difficult to drive at night. I stopped driving at night about 6 months before each of my cataract operations. I didn't make any dietary changes.

My ability to read changed after the surgery. Usually the implanted lens only gives you one range of vision, and mine were set for distance vision, so it became necessary for me to wear reading glasses for anything I needed to see up close. Although I consider my surgeries to have been successful, I have to wear a contact lens in the eye in which an implant of the wrong power was made by the doctor. I also wear progressive bifocal glasses when I shop because then I have somewhat normal vision at all ranges. I wear regular reading glasses for any reading or close up craft projects I do.

Did you seek any type of emotional support?

Not really, although I did find a lot of good information both before and after my surgeries on an online bulletin board for people with cataracts.

Do cataracts have an impact on your family?

Only when I don't wear my glasses to cook—then the recipes don't always come out exactly as they should! Also, if I am caught without my glasses and someone gives me something to look at or read, I have to ask someone to read it for me, because I have no close vision without my glasses.

What advice would you give to anyone living with cataracts?

The results of cataract surgery may be more complex than the doctors lead you to believe. I would recommend reading as much as possible about the surgery and its possible outcomes—the risks as well as the benefits. The doctors tend to stress the 98% success rate this surgery has.

Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.

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