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Checking for cataracts advised before Lasik

August 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Eye doctors say they're seeing more and more people in their 40s and early 50s with cataracts, a condition that usually affects people who are much older.

When Patty Beare hit her 40s, she noticed her eye sight started to deteriorate. She can't see well at night and has trouble reading.

"Reading, there's no way. I can't read anything without my glasses at any distance," she said.

One doctor told her she needed Lasik but when she went to get a second opinion with Dr. Paul Dougherty, she got some shocking news: She had cataracts, a clouding and hardening of the lens that usually shows up later in life.

"I knew it was inevitable but I wasn't expecting to have it this early," Beare said.

Dougherty says many patients who have early signs of cataracts end up getting Lasik. As a result, the procedure isn't as effective and may mean that eventually they'll need cataract surgery anyway. Getting the right diagnosis has clear advantages.

"If we do lens surgery, we take out the cataract and we correct the vision, just like Lasik corrects the vision except permanently," Dougherty said.

He says the reason why people will start to get cataracts in their 40s is because they don't protect their eyes, and it's especially a problem here in sunny Southern California.

"Wear sunglasses. I think one of the reasons patients get cataracts and macular degeneration is sunlight or ultra-violet light," Dougherty said.

More women than men undergo cataract surgery. Dougherty says it only takes a few minutes and it's very successful in improving vision.

"With Patty I'm going to put in a lens called a multifocal len that splits light so she'll be able to see distance and she'll be able to read from the same eye," he said.

For the first time in decades, Beare will have 20/20 vision. Experts say get a comprehensive exam and find out if you have cataracts before you undergo any other type of corrective eye surgery.

"If it happened to me, I'm guessing that there are other people out there in similar situations," she said.

Cataract surgery involves taking out the diseased lens and replacing it. But if you're looking for a specialized lens - like the one Beare received - it probably won't be covered by insurance, unlike standard lenses which are.

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