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University of Iowa News Release

August 1, 2003

Eye Specialists Focus On Cataracts

Although 20.5 million Americans ages 40 and older have cataracts, cataracts are one of the most curable causes of vision loss.

Throughout August, as part of Cataract Awareness Month, eye specialists will explain the truth about cataracts and remind people they don't have to live with vision loss from cataracts.

A cataract is the clouding of the eye's normally clear lens, blocking the passage of light needed for vision. They form slowly and cause no pain. Some stay small and hardly affect vision, but if the cataract does grow and begin to affect your vision, it can usually be removed with surgery.

"Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness around the world; however, in most cases, vision loss from cataracts is reversible," said Tom Oetting, M.D., University of Iowa associate professor (clinical) of ophthalmology and visual sciences. "New techniques developed over the past decade have made cataract surgery one of the most successful procedures available in terms of restoring quality of life to patients."

Each year there are more than one million cataract removal surgeries performed in the United States.

"There are no drugs or exercises that will make a cataract disappear and, contrary to popular myth, cataracts are not removed using lasers. Lasers are used in follow-up procedures, if needed. Cataract surgery is most often done as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia," said Tim Johnson, M.D., UI associate professor (clinical) of ophthalmology and visual sciences. "The cloudy natural lens can be replaced with a clear artificial lens to give the eye proper focusing power. In most cases, the improvement in the patient's vision is profound."

So how do you know if you have a cataract?

"Some people notice a gradual painless blurring of vision, double vision in one eye or fading or yellowing of colors," Oetting said. "When my older patients mention sensitivity to glare and/or bright light or trouble driving at night, I suspect a cataract. Or, if a patient needs frequent changes to his or her glasses or contact lens prescriptions, I'll evaluate him or her for a cataract."

Johnson dispels the notion that a cataract has to be "ripe" before it's removed. "That's just not true. The best time to have a cataract removed is when it starts to interfere with the things you like to do.

"Cataract surgery is a great procedure, but it is still surgery," he added. "If cataracts don't affect your quality of life, you may feel that surgery is not needed. The only person who can really decide when it's time to have it removed is you."

For more information, visit online at or call UI Health Access toll free at 800-777-8442.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications, University of Iowa Health Care, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room 8798 JPP, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Moore, Writer, 319-356-3945,