Seeing the Light
Date: June 3, 2013
Cataract surgery restores clear vision
Charles Hart knew he didn’t have perfect vision. The Pasadena, Maryland, resident began wearing glasses in his 30s to read. But as he entered his 60s, Hart says his eye sight began to change whenever he went outside.
“Everything started looking hazy when I went out in the sun,” he says.
Early on, the hazy, “fuzzy” vision seemed to disappear within a few minutes of its onset. But with each year, his symptoms grew worse—especially in his left eye. Watching his grandson’s baseball games on a sunny day became almost impossible. “It was like looking through a dirty windshield in that one eye,” Hart says.
A Common Diagnosis
An ophthalmologist at an area retail store discovered Hart had a cataract, a clouding of the eye lens, in his left eye during a routine checkup. After years of coping with his changing vision, Hart turned to Robert S. Weinberg, M.D., chair of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, for help.
“Cataracts are one of the more common eye conditions that can strike as people age,” Dr. Weinberg says. “About 70 percent of people will get cataracts as they get older.”
In a healthy eye, the lens focuses incoming light onto the light-sensitive retina. But as a cataract develops, the eye’s lens turns more opaque. That means more light is absorbed by the lens instead of being transmitted to the retina. Most people don’t realize they have a cataract in between eye exams because the vision change is usually gradual, Dr. Weinberg explains. “What frequently happens is they go to get their driver’s license renewed, and they find out they have decreased vision that they weren’t even aware of,” he says.
Yet if left untreated, cataracts can worsen, causing vision loss and eventually blindness. When a patient like Hart finds that his lifestyle is affected by a cataract, Dr. Weinberg often recommends surgery.
At the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Bayview, Dr. Weinberg and fellow ophthalmologists can remove a cataract through a small incision and replace the damaged lens with a plastic lens implant. This implant becomes a permanent part of the patient’s eye. The surgery usually requires no hospital stay, with patients returning to their daily routines in a few days.
In fall 2011, Dr. Weinberg removed the cataract from Hart’s left eye. A year later, Dr. Weinberg removed a second cataract from Hart’s right eye.
Hart, now 73, says he is impressed by the results. With a new lens in each eye, Hart is able to see more clearly now than he has in decades. He can even see details that before went unnoticed. “I thought I was holding up well, but I’ve got a lot more wrinkles than I thought I did,” he jokes, adding he now has “bionic eyes.” Hart is even able to watch his grandson play baseball again on sunny days. “When I walk outside, everything is bright and clear,” he says. “It’s amazing.”
In addition to treating cataracts, the Wilmer Eye Institute evaluates, diagnoses and treats the following eye conditions that affect seniors:
Glaucoma – A group of eye disorders that cause blindness by harming the optic nerve, which is responsible for vision. Symptoms can include loss of peripheral vision, tunnel vision, sudden blurred vision, sudden halos around lights at night, pain and redness in the eye, headache or nausea.
Macular Degeneration – A disease of the macula, the central and most sensitive part of the retina. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe, permanent vision loss in Americans over 50. About 90 percent of people with AMD have the dry or nonvascular form, with symptoms such as a need for brighter light when reading, increasing blurriness of printed words and increasing difficulty adapting to low light levels. The wet, or neovascular, form symptoms include decrease or loss of central vision, visual distortion and decreased intensity or brightness of colors.
- Dry Eye/Sjögren’s Syndrome – A condition caused by inadequate secretion of the tear film or increased loss of water from the tear film by evaporation. Symptoms include dry eyes that may burn, itch or feel gritty, eye tearing and dry mouth.
Dr. Weinberg recommends seniors have their eyes checked annually to catch vision problems early. Seniors with diabetes should be checked twice a year.
To schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist at the Wilmer Eye Institute, call 410-550-2360.