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5/26/08

Question: Can cataracts grow back after you remove them?

 Answer:

One of the common misconceptions I hear in my office is the concern by a patient who has previously had cataracts removed that their cataract has grown back. First of all we are all born with lenses in our eyes if we are normal. These lenses are anatomically located in our eyes behind the iris or colored part of our eye inside the eye. The natural lens of the eye is indeed a true lens with a lot of power that allows us to focus our eyes. This lens is made up of tissue which ages as we age much like our hair and our skin. The 60 year old doesn't have hair or skin like a 5 year old because of age. The hair may be gray or non existent in the 60 year old and the skin probably has wrinkles. The lens of the eye develops opacities and becomes discolored with aging changes and these changes are cataract changes by definition and so we say the patient has cataracts. The vision is affected and the patient complains that they don't see as well and that makes sense because the lens they were born with has become cloudy. It is basically the same thing as your windshield on your car getting very dirty and you complain you can't see as well. We go to the car wash and clean our windshield to solve the problem but the cataract has to be removed. So the cataract is a natural normal aging change in most people and we do surgery to remove them. The most common method to remove cataracts is called phacoemulsification. We do not put people to sleep and we use only local IV sedation. We do not use shots in the eye but we only use eye drops for anesthesia. We do not have to put sutures in the eye and the term No Stitch has been commonly used to describe the procedure. We generally never use patches after surgery and the patient goes home without glasses. We do remove the lens of the eye which you were born with and which has become cloudy and which we now call a cataract. The cataract will never grow back because it is gone completely. We do leave a thin membrane in place after cataract removal and this may wrinkle and become cloudy but it is not the cataract. The cloudy thin membrane can be quickly opened with a laser without repeating cataract surgery and this is called a YAG laser. The thin membrane clouds up in about 70% of people at varying times over a five year period. The artificial lens we use to replace the power of the natural lens or cataract that we took out is called an intraocular lens and I will deal with that issue and others in future articles. The cataract is not removed with a laser and it cannot grow back.

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Disclaimer: This information is not a recommendation to fail to seek proper eye examinations from your eye doctor. I am a Board Certified Ophthalmologist.

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