Blurry vision might mean more than the need for new glasses


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Viera ophthalmologist Dr. Alex Pappas checks the eyes of a patient at the Pinnacle Eye Center.

Courtesy of Pinnacle Eye Center

With 25 million people in America having trouble seeing because of cloudy lenses in their eyes — known as cataracts — local and national ophthalmologists want people to know there’s hope to see better.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and Prevent Blindness America have declared this month as Cataract Awareness Month so people won’t panic if they get the common symptoms and will know to contact their eye doctors.

“Cataracts are a natural part of aging,” said Viera ophthalmologist Dr. Alex Pappas, with Pinnacle Eye Center. “It’s like getting gray hair. If you live long enough, you do get them.”

Typically, patients seek help when they notice an increase in glare from the sun or streetlights as they drive, he said. Or things might look really dim. Reading might require extra-bright lighting.

Maybe a patient already wears glasses or contact lenses. But it seems like the prescription wears out faster than it did in earlier years, requiring newer glasses or contacts.

That’s because the lenses inside their eyes have become thicker and cloudier, experts say. And because it is often connected to age, cataracts are quite common. 

“An ophthalmologist will see anywhere from 200 to 400 cataract patients a year,” Pappas said.

But age isn’t the only factor, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Underlying conditions such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, along with smoking and prolonged sun exposure, can add to the risks even for a person younger than 50.

“It varies with the individual,” said Dr. Frederick Ho, an ophthalmologist in the Suntree/Viera area.

Both doctors recommend someone see an ophthalmologist if they have such difficulty seeing. The eye doctor will conduct a thorough exam, treating each eye like a separate patient, and come to a diagnosis that it just might be cataracts. 

And that finding might not mean surgery yet, Ho said. But when the visual problems interfere with the person’s ability to enjoy his or her daily activities or perform necessary household chores or the job, surgery might be the answer.

But not to worry, Ho said. Surgeries of decades ago meant hospital time and glasses with “Coke-bottle” lenses to replace the cloudy natural lenses. But Ho said modern doctors insert an artificial lens right into the eye after extracting the cloudy natural one.  It’s done within a day and the patient gets to go home.

Many times, Pappas said, cataract patients don’t even need their old glasses after getting the artificial lenses.

“They come in for their next visit, expecting everything to be blurry, but they get this ‘wow’ factor when everything is clear,” he said.

Ho warned patients, however, not to all expect that amazing clarity in their own cases.

“It all depends on the conditions of the eye itself,” he said. “This is all very individual.”

If surgery is needed, Ho said, it will improve not just the person’s eyes, but his or her life.

“For instance, there is less risk in falling down,” he said.