Few changes in medicine have been as dramatic as the advances in cataract treatment. Gone are the overnight hospital stays, physical discomfort and long, often frustrating recovery periods that used to characterize cataract surgery just a generation ago. Instead, treatment today only requires outpatient surgery, with a quick recovery period and often immediate improvement in vision.
As specialists in cataract surgery, the doctors at Eyecare Medical Group have been at the forefront of bringing to Maine patients the advances in anesthesia and microsurgery techniques that have made such changes possible.
" It meant a lot to me that they are so concerned with how you feel." says Anita Buttarazzi, an EMG cataract patient.
Cataracts are a function of aging – they develop to some degree in nearly everyone by age 65. Cataracts impair vision by causing the normally clear lens within the eye to become progressively cloudy. Cataracts tend to develop slowly as a person ages and usually cause no pain. The only treatment for cataracts is surgical removal, but it is a process that has become increasingly safe and comfortable for patients.
Microsurgical tools can remove the cataract by liquefying it with sound waves and suctioning it out through the tiny incision. That same incision may be used to insert a permanent intraocular lens (IOL) to restore the focusing power of the eye. EMG surgeons were the first in Maine to offer the advanced technology of the Crystalens, to correct vision up close, at arm’s length and far away, and the even newer Toric IOLs, which can correct the astigmatism that has been a problem for patients much of their lives.
Cataract removal is one of the most common surgeries performed in the U.S., with over 1.4 million surgeries done each year, and it is also one of the most successful procedures for patients, with 95% of surgeries resulting in improved vision. As EMG surgeons have seen, the surgery can be life-changing.
“In the last five years, the results with the surgeries tend to be so good -- seeing people and hearing from 80-year-olds that they haven’t seen like this in 20 years, it makes a big difference,” said William S. Holt, MD.
Holt, along with EMG’s two other founders, Elizabeth G. Serrage, MD, and Bruce R. Cassidy, MD, specializes in cataract surgery, as do Robert W. Daly, MD, Jordan E. Sterrer, MD and Samuel P. Solish, MD. EMG surgeons are pioneers in the specialty of cataract removal in Maine and were among the first in the state to perform outpatient cataract surgery and to offer eye-drop anesthesia and no-stitch techniques.
The new intraocular lenses, including Crystalens and the Toric IOLs, have allowed dramatically better eyesight after surgery – without eyeglasses and with the ability to change focus like the eye does when younger.
“More and more cataract patients are taking the opportunity to have an IOL placed at the time of cataract removal to allow them to see up close for reading, intermediate distances for seeing the computer, and distance vision without glasses," notes Sterrer.
EMG surgeons have performed thousands of cataract surgeries, and given the advances in cataract treatment and new options for patients, they expect to stay busy – especially as baby boomers in Maine and the U.S. continue to age. While most cataract patients are older, EMG also works with younger patients. Pat Center was 54 when she began having trouble with bright lights.
“My vision was not good. I wasn’t driving at night, all the headlights looked like fireworks,” she said.
Center’s symptom was typical. Common cataract symptoms include problems with excessive glare, blurred vision, colors that seem dull or faded and the need for frequent changes in eyeglasses or contact lens prescriptions. Center consulted the doctors at EMG and had her first cataract surgery last August and her second one six weeks later.
Today, her eyesight is better than ever. EMG’s Cassidy implanted Crystalens as part of Center’s cataract surgery. In addition to treating her cataracts, Center’s eyesight was corrected for vision up close, at arm’s length, and far away. Through advanced focusing implantable lens technology, the eyeglasses she had worn for many years were no longer necessary.
“The improvement was immediate--and astonishing. I no longer needed glasses,” she said. “The brightness of colors and the clarity was just miraculous.”
Center says that the staff at EMG made the entire procedure, from paperwork to the actual surgery and follow-up, painless.
“I just can’t say enough. I had been trying so many different options to improve my vision, and when I came to EMG the doctors were so responsive and worked quickly to find a solution,” she said.
Even with all the advances in surgery and techniques, the human side of medical care is still an important focus in cataract treatment, say the EMG doctors, and other patients confirm the impact that it has.
“The entire staff is so knowledgeable,” said Anita Buttarazzi, who is also a cataract patient at EMG. “And it doesn’t end with the surgery. They don’t forget about you once you go home. I was only home one or two hours and they called to see how I was feeling -- if there was even the slightest discomfort. It meant a lot to me that they are so concerned with how you feel.”
“Well, everyone gets older sooner or later,” says EMG’s Holt, “which is part of the challenges of life. But at least impaired or failing eyesight doesn't automatically have to be a part of growing older. It’s nice to make that difference.”
EMG’s Daly adds, “With advances in technology and exciting new lens options available, there are more and more reasons to recommend surgery before cataracts interfere with a patient’s quality of life.”