A Breakthrough for Cataract Patients
Artificial lenses implanted during cataract surgery restore clear vision for millions of patients each year. But the lenses help only at a single focal point, usually distance vision. Recently, however, the FDA approved new "bifocal" lenses that restore vision from near to far, eliminating the need for glasses for most wearers.
Cataract surgery restores clear vision to almost three million Americans each year, by replacing the eye's natural lens, which has become cloudy, with an artificial lens implant.
But there's one big problem with conventional cataract surgery.
Dr. Robin Vann, chief of the comprehensive ophthalmology service at the Duke University Eye Center, describes the limitation of the current procedure.
"When someone has a cataract, a clouding of the natural lens of their eye, we try to improve their sight by replacing their natural lens with an artificial lens implant that isn't cloudy. This lens implant basically has a single power. The best that we can do is to restore your sight so that you have one clear focusing range. Traditionally, the vast majority of individuals try to have great distance vision, so most of the time we adjust the lens implant's power so that you see very well far away.
"This doesn't address the need to see well up close, whether it's intermediate range, computer range or reading range. So right now, with the current technology of single-power lenses, the best we can do for a patient is to give them excellent distance vision and they'd still have to wear glasses or contacts to see up close."
However, says Vann, that's about to change.
"What's exciting is that there are now several manufacturers who are making lens implants that give you more than one focal range. Depending on the manufacturer and the design of the lens implant, we have fancy terms like 'pseudo-accommodative' or 'multi-focal intraocular lenses.' Two new lenses have just gotten FDA approval to have a multi-focal intraocular lens for cataract surgery, so that you can not only see well far away but also at intermediate range and up close. In effect, these are intraocular bifocal lenses."
Vann, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Duke, says early studies of the innovative lens implants were extremely encouraging.
"Upwards of 80 to 90 percent of individuals who have had these implants in both their eyes are completely free of glasses for all their vision needs."
Several manufacturers already have already received FDA approval for intraocular lens implants for cataract patients, according to Vann. Alcon offers a lens called RESTOR, while Advanced Medical Optics makes two multi-focal lenses: ReZoom and Array. Eyeonics makes an "accommodating" lens implant, one that moves in the eye, called the crystalens.
Vann says surgeons at the Duke Eye Center will begin implanting the new lenses this summer. If you are age 45 or older and notice a gradual blurring or cloudiness of vision, cataracts may be the cause. To learn more about cataracts and cataract surgery, or to schedule an exam, consult your eye doctor.